Threats | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub


The exchange of words between Channel 5 and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has been very instructive. Channel 5 objects to the MTRCB’s decision to suspend “T3,” the public affairs show hosted by Raffy, Erwin and Ben Tulfo, for 20 days. MTRCB imposed the sanction because of the threats made by the brothers in that program on Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto for the fracas at the airport.

The Tulfo brothers have already been meted out a three-day suspension by Channel 5, says TV5 lawyer Jay Tolosa. “What else is there for the government to resolve? A preventive suspension suggests that the continued broadcast of the program would constitute a danger to the viewing public. There is no such danger…. (The MTRCB’s ruling) oversteps its mandate and sets it on a path that could threaten the independence and freedom of the broadcast industry.”


Not at all, says MTRCB head Grace Poe Llamanzares. “I think it’s rather clear that the MTRCB has jurisdiction over all publicly exhibited materials on television as long as it’s not straight news. It’s the only exemption—not public affairs or news magazine programs…. The station itself categorized ‘T3’ as a public affairs program. In this case, the hosts used the program to air their personal grievances. That is not for the benefit of the public. Perhaps they can do it to a certain extent, but at the very least they’re not supposed to threaten people.”

As a rule, I don’t like censorship, and it’s interesting that although the MTRCB no longer functions as a censorship board—it is now largely a classificatory one—its officials continue to be referred to as “the censors,” as seen in newspaper articles and radio-TV broadcasts. But whatever you call it, censorship or regulation, I’d rather the MTRCB erred on the side of liberalism. Certainly, I’d rather the MTRCB left much of the regulation to the media outlets themselves. That is so particularly on the subjects of sex and politics. Those are dangerous waters to tread. That was shown in the past by Manoling Morato and Henrietta Mendez, both of whom contributed epically to giving the MTRCB its reputation of being an inquisitorial figure.


That is so as a rule, but that rule doesn’t apply here. For a couple of reasons.

The first is that the current MTRCB retains no vestige of its unsavory past. It has been neither intrusive nor capricious, neither prissy nor moralistic. Especially about sex and politics; it has been fairly judicious in its judgments in those respects. I don’t know that it has given an “X” to a movie yet, and certainly I don’t know that it has interfered in the politics of TV shows, whether straight news or opinion. The individual TV outfits have been far more censoring, and censuring, disguised or patent, than the MTRCB.

The second, and far more importantly, is that the transgression is grave. It has nothing to do with politics, it has to do with ethics. It has nothing to do with opinion, it has to do with decorum. It has nothing to do with partisanship, it has to do with good manners and right conduct. Llamanzares herself says “T3” has been the subject of several complaints in the past. She has asked to meet with the show’s producers and hosts, but despite their repeated promises to appear, they have not done so. And now this.

The Tulfo brothers’ excuse is that they got carried away in the heat of emotion. After all, it was another brother of theirs who had been at the receiving end of a beating, and they were feeling raw. That is no excuse at all. They had no business being there to comment on it to begin with. They should have taken a temporary leave of absence before they went on a temporary leave of their senses. They knew they had a deeply personal stake in it, they knew they could not possibly be objective about it. That is not a recipe for public service, that is a recipe for public disservice. Since it was unlikely they would have volunteered to inhibit themselves, Channel 5 should have asked them to do so.

I read the transcripts of the brothers’ ululations, one challenging Santiago to a fistfight, another warning the couple they had better not meet at the airport or mall or any public place, still another advising the couple to just stay at home and stay healthy. That’s not public service, that’s private malice. That’s not just emotional excess, that is journalistic thuggery. That’s not even toughness, that’s just weakness. Everyone always finds the witty line after the argument; everyone always finds the balls after the fray.

How was that display of bad manners and wrong conduct any different from what happened to their brother, a group ganging up on him and beating him black and blue? Well, at least the Santiagos merely conscripted their friends to go along with them, or indeed they didn’t have to conscript them at all, they volunteered freely and spontaneously. The Tulfos conscripted media to gang up on the couple, or used them to inflict that scale of mayhem. Oh, yes, mayhem. Words, particularly when amplified a million times by the power of TV, break bones as much as sticks and stones.

The point of public service programs is to curb abuse, not heap it. The point of public service programs is to put fear in the hearts of the abusive, not to put fear in the heart of the public. No, the MTRCB’s 20-day preventive suspension of “T3” does not threaten freedom of the press, it secures it. I feel more threatened by journalists, broadcast or print, who try to use TV, radio, or newspaper to carry out naked vendetta than a government agency trying to remind them of what their profession calls for. Radio and TV are particularly powerful because of their reach and immediacy. With much power comes much responsibility.

That applies as much to Spiderman as to other bugs.

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TAGS: Ben Tulfo, Cebu Pacific, Channel 5, Claudine Barreto, Erwin Tulfo, Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, MTRCB, NAIA brawl, Raffy Tulfo, Ramon Tulfo, Raymart Santiago
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