THE EXPLOITATION and abuse of a 6-year-old boy on a primetime TV show by Willie Revillame has set off a firestorm of criticism and condemnation of the show and its recidivist host. But this should not end here. It should prompt the entire TV industry to conduct a self-examination and see if all the people engaged in it, from the TV network owners to producers, directors, actors and hosts, are aware of and are conforming to the industry’s code of ethics and canons of taste.
Television is a very powerful medium. Our elections have shown that it can elect government officials and make or unmake presidents. Television has the biggest audience share among the mass media. (Ninety percent media penetration, according to marketing professor Karen V. de Asis of De La Salle University.) The whole world is becoming a giant sound stage for TV news. And even before worldwide satellite links were established, the growing effect of broadcast news technology on national and international politics was becoming increasingly evident.
But those in the TV industry should realize that with great power goes great responsibility. True, TV, just like radio, the print media and digital media, is also a business and has to make a profit to be able to continue operating. But the people in the TV industry should also remember that as part of the media, it is invested with public interest. TV is there not just to make money but also to serve the interest of the people.
Perhaps one good starting point would be to hold a conference in which all the stakeholders of the TV industry could determine what it is doing right and what it is doing wrong. Then remedial measures can be undertaken, such as, for instance, regular discussions of the industry’s code of ethics and canons of taste, including studies of actual cases.
One frequent criticism of TV is that it idiotizes the poor and less fortunate people. Thus it is sometimes called “the idiot box.” The TV industry can rise above this by finding a way to inject educational and social values into its shows. The movie industry, particularly the independent producers/directors, have shown that this can be done: a production can be both a commercial and critical success. Why can’t the TV industry do it?
Probably some TV hosts don’t realize it, but they are being doubly cruel in dangling money and promoting mendicancy among the poor. Who does not remember the stampede at the former Revillame show in which 74 people, including children, were killed because they wanted to be included in the show that gave away prizes that to them were great fortunes?
Prizes can still be awarded in TV shows, but the award should be done in a way that does not demean and abuse the participants. It can be done, as Ellen Degeneres has shown. Good TV means culture, good manners and good taste.
A reexamination of the TV industry should not be limited to its entertainment aspect. The industry could also examine how it is delivering the news to its audience. It is good that now there is less blood and gore on primetime news programs. But here are just some of the criticisms that the stakeholders of the TV industry might want to discuss in a conference:
The almost subliminal inclusion of advertisements in news programs. All media codes provide that there should be a clear delineation between news and advertising. It’s like the separation of Church and State. But very often this delineation is violated, and the announcers delivering the news are themselves the ones endorsing certain products.
Television should follow the rule on the time allotted for commercials or ad spots in programs, especially popular broadcasts like those of the fights of Manny Pacquiao. People want to watch the action on the ring, not interminable commercials.
The increasing time being allotted to entertainment news, to the prejudice of news stories, both local and foreign. One network even has an entertainment segment after every news segment. Perhaps only the most important showbiz stories should be reported in just one segment.
We are sure the stakeholders of the TV industry have other concerns that they would like to be discussed in conferences or small group discussions. Television can be a great medium for the information, education and acculturation of the people. It has to reexamine itself and see how it can best serve the people.
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