In the Philippines, the TV set is now as much a member of the family as Nanay and Tatay. Many parents plunk their children down in front of the screen and leave them to be distracted while the adults go about their business. That television has taken on the all-important role of “babysitter” ought to ring alarm bells, especially because some parents essentially trust its content as not only safe but perhaps even good for their kids.
Big mistake. It’s not for nothing that TV is called a “wasteland”—as much for its brain-numbing variety shows that carry risqué jokes and sadistic games as the gory news footage that are shown even during times when children are sure to be watching. This was already a major cause of concern last year when Grace Poe, then the chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, championed a child’s summit that gathered officials of government agencies and broadcasting network executives and culminated in the signing of a memorandum of understanding toward the protection of children through TV. But as Poe remarked in her welcome address, “No amount of government legislation or initiative will ever be enough if parents do not take on the primary role of protecting their children. In our classification campaign, we remind viewers: Ang tamang gabay ay naguumpisa sa bahay. (The correct guidance begins at home.) We can lay the groundwork for child protection but, ultimately, it is the parents’ informed judgment that counts most.”
Earlier this month, or more than a year later, the MTRCB held another child’s summit—now officially called the Family and Child Summit—at the University of the Philippines campus. Has there been a sea change in TV programming in terms of upholding children’s interests since then? Well, that the likes of Vice Ganda continue to lord over prime time is not encouraging. The mood at the summit was one of urgency. TV audiences, particularly parents who cringe at TV’s incursion into their homes with offensive material will do well to heed Cultural Center of the Philippines chair Emily Abrera’s call (“[Parents should] withhold patronage of offensive TV programs… Be insulted. Complain. We are not faceless, voiceless, powerless.”) or child psychologist Honey Carandang’s question (“How can television become the ally, and not the enemy, of parents in imparting positive values to children?”).
But are TV executives listening?
This year, the MTRCB stepped squarely into the fray. Its chair, Eugenio Villareal, summoned executives of ABS-CBN in connection with “disturbing scenes” that “compromised the innocence of both child-actors and child-viewers” in the controversial but immensely popular Sunday comedy show “Goin’ Bulilit.” The board had noted scenes that “make children mouth language [on] topics like inflicting physical harm on others, put-downs of one’s spouse, cheating in elections, and the commission of wrongdoing…” After the meeting, the network promised to address the board’s concerns and to institute measures such as appointing a resident child psychologist for the show and a three-month review mechanism.
Meanwhile, one of GMA 7’s hottest programs is “The Ryzza Mae Show,” which features the very young Dizon regularly interviewing adults—an activity that requires the pint-sized host to talk about topics beyond her ken. That and her reputed killer schedule are a reminder that the networks must protect not only their young viewers but also their young actors. The two child summits dealt with this labor problem, resulting in reminders on strict adherence to the Department of Labor and Employment’s requirements for minors.
It thus remains a challenge to both the MTRCB and parents and guardians to tame TV and use it, as Carandang suggests, as a teaching tool. At this year’s summit, Poe, now a senator, reminded everyone of the fundamental responsibility: “If we are to succeed in self-regulation, the audience, particularly parents, should be empowered with information—specifically, the importance of age-appropriate classification. Networks, film producers and industry stakeholders should understand that though we have different professional goals, we [agree] that our most important role as individuals is that of being a parent.”