IT SEEMS that, in the wake of a new controversy on his show “Willing Willie,” TV host Willie Revillame has shown he has learned some lessons. Monday evening, it seems he guested Jan-Jan, the six year-old boy whose plight drew a firestorm of criticism and protest when a clip of his segment on the show went viral on YouTube, to disprove the claims that Jan-Jan had been humiliated and exploited.
With Jan-Jan were his parents and uncle, who claimed that the boy wanted to dance on TV and his appearance in “Willing Willie” was entirely voluntary. In fact, said the parents, Jan-Jan had even more dance acts up his sleeve, at which point they asked the boy to perform his “Michael Jackson” number. When the boy began to put his hand on his crotch and rock in a sexy manner, Revillame called a halt to the proceedings. Maybe he was disturbed that adults, especially adults charged with the care of a young boy, would train him to dance provocatively. Or maybe Revillame was just concerned that any more sultry moves from Jan-Jan would get him into more hot water.
Whatever, the episode proves that Revillame does have the power to put a stop to offensive numbers on his show, especially numbers that subject a child to public humiliation. Maybe we should be thankful for small favors, for Revillame’s learning an important lesson in responsible broadcasting, even if it comes a tad bit too late.
But what about the parents? Jay Sonza, with whom I discussed my column on Jan-Jan Tuesday morning over dzIQ and who told me about the “Willing Willie” show with Jan-Jan and his parents, said he wanted to rush right over to the Channel 5 studios and have it out with Jan-Jan’s father. For indeed, without the active consent and connivance of his parents, Jan-Jan would have been spared the embarrassing episode which will probably haunt him all his life; and the TV-viewing public the spectacle of a child gyrating before the cameras.
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TO BE sure, Revillame and Channel 5 have not been exactly meek lambs responding to critics.
True, the TV host has apologized for any offense that he might have committed. And his network has sought to explain away the pitiful sight of a boy reduced to tears after being cajoled to put on a sexy show.
To observations that the boy was crying and looked stressed while being made to perform, Channel 5 issued a statement saying that the boy looked grim because he didn’t want to show his missing front teeth. He was also looking solemn, they said, because he took his dance number “seriously.” And he might have looked frightened because of the presence of a former basketball player who loomed over him and to him looked like a “giant.”
So many explanations—when the simplest explanation is that Revillame just didn’t have enough self-awareness and compassion for a child and let his crude humor and the kunsintidor audience goad him into carelessness and cruelty.
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I AM SO glad that Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman was quick to respond to the public outcry, writing to Channel 5 owner Manuel Pangilinan regarding the incident with Jan-Jan. She rightly pointed out that what Revillame subjected Jan-Jan to was outright child abuse, adding that it does not consist only of physical harm or corporal punishment, but also includes emotional and psychological cruelty. There is, in fact, an anti-child abuse law, and as Sonza pointed out, there is a similar law regulating the hours of work and working conditions for child performers.
I would suggest that Revillame and Channel 5 executives watch an Australian TV show called “Junior Master Chefs.” The child contestants are made to undergo much the same grueling challenges as their adult counterparts. But the difference is that the judges on “Junior Master Chefs” take extra care to couch their criticisms in gentle language, and give these a positive spin. There is no attempt to crush the young people’s dreams or self-esteem.
I believe the producers know how children can be so easily hurt by criticism, how sensitive they can be to adults’ opinions. The competitive spirit is discernible, but the competition is actually fun to watch.
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SPEAKING OF cruelty to children and efforts to minimize, if not eradicate it, a bill that seeks to promote “positive and non-violent forms” of disciplining children has just hurdled the House committee on the welfare of children. The “Positive Discipline Act of 2011” was filed by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy of BH Partylist and Tarlac Rep. Susan Yap.
Once approved into law, the measure will put into place a comprehensive program that will protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or neglect.
News of this legislative development comes in the wake of the release of a global report issued by Unicef on “Child Disciplinary Practices at Home,” covering low- and middle-income countries, including the Philippines. Shocking indeed is the finding that three out of four children in the survey “experience some form of violent discipline, about half experience some form of physical punishment and three in four experience psychological aggression.”
Even more alarming are findings that violence against children harms not just the child, but also the society in which he or she lives. “Even mild forms of physical discipline are harmful to children, hindering their cognitive capacity and increasing the proclivity for future violent acts. Violent psychological discipline—including ridicule, threats and intimidation—has also been shown to have a range of negative behavioral impacts on childhood and beyond,” says the report. A child raised in a violent environment is more likely than not to grow into a violent adult.