The establishmentisation of the Philippine Media

I can still remember a time when The Media used to be squarely on the side of those who’ve made it their mission to instigate meaningful change in our society. In the periods between 1983 (when Benigno Aquino was assassinated) and 1986 (when Cory Aquino took Malacanang), I can honestly say that The Media played a critical role in the success of that “revolution”.

Between 1983 and 1986, The Media had secured its place as modern-day “king-makers” in Philippine society. It is a role they hold to this day. The only difference between now and then is that there no longer is a laban (fight) in the same sense of how the concept found its context back in the 1980’s. Whereas in the 1980’s those media outfits that were to become today’s ABS-CBN’s and Philippine Daily Inquirer‘s were the outsiders, today they are the insiders. They stand tall as part of the Establishment and the realities of being for profit enterprises (with shareholders and diverse Boards) have come to bear. As such it makes the criteria used in the allocation of airtime and inches to issues, topics, and personalities quite suspect.

Suffice to say, the Media is no longer that gung-ho champion of “freedom” that it made itself out to be in the 1980’s. Today it comes across as just another pillar of influence and a political force in its own right standing side-by-side with its peers in the Political Establishment, much the same way as that other power broker, the Philippine Catholic Church, is but an elaborately ornamented shadow of what Jesus Christ originally stood for as a Jewish radical of his time.

I thus find a comment recently made by Arnel Endrinal of Lead Philippines as quite timely:

[…] mass media is still king maker in our country, more specifically ABS-CBN and GMA7. Since GMA7 seems less keen on taking sides, it seems more like ABS-CBN only.

Any ideas on taking control of them? Is there anyone here rich enough to buy them or compete with them.

I believe that the more realistic approach in taking on the big networks like ABS-CBN is not too different to the way we as voters and constituents regard our politicians (the key message of my blog post Electing someone to public office is like hiring a plumber):

Do we sit idly and accept the horsemanure they feed us? Or are we up to the task of stepping up and truly exercising our power as voters and constituents by taking control of the political “debate”?

It is a challenge that is applicable to us as consumers of what The Media dish out. Instead of sitting idly and just accepting what they dish out to us, we should regard their output with a critical mind and be more demanding as customers.

I, for example, am very critical of ABS-CBN on the basis of what I see on their Bandila news program which is aired on a free-to-view channel in Australia, specifically in the way they routinely:

– give disproportionate airtime to hearsay (sabi-ni-ganyan and sabi-ni-ganito) “reporting” and other instances of sloppy journalism that insult their otherwise noble profession;

– give disproportionate airtime to politically-charged stories when there are disasters and other events affecting hundreds or thousands of ordinary Filipinos that are more newsworthy and deserving of broadcast minutes; and,

– broadcast images of uncovered dead bodies demonstrating a lack of respect for privacy and regard for common decency.

On one episode (I think this was in the aftermath of flash flooding in the Bicol region), they even had their field reporters and camera crews shoving their way into a busy emergency room to interview medical personnel.

One also could wonder why Bandila gave so much coverage to the hoo-ha around President Arroyo’s $20,000 dinner in New York City with her cronies and is largely silent about the millions of pesos other politicians spend on buying advertising minutes for their “public service” messages — until one realises that these “public services” messages constitute a major revenue stream for ABS-CBN.

There is also something to be said about the gaudy and noisy (lots of sound effects and electric guitars on the background) format of the Bandila news program, which starkly contrasts with the sober and dignified format of the other news programs from other countries that are also aired on the same channel. Bandila is to the broadcast news industry what the jeepney is to the automotive industry. But that is really just engaging in petty nitpicking, isn’t it? After all, ganun talaga ang Pinoy (that’s the Filipino for you).


Even the well-regarded Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) isn’t above being partial to politically-motivated topics. At the height of a horrific mudslide in 2006 that killed 1,300 Filipinos in Leyte, the PCIJ blog remained awash in politics-related stories leading me to make a sarcastic comment after some token stories were ran on the disaster:

Not bad. That makes TWO mudslide-related articles out of 15-odd politically-motivated articles in the last several weeks since the disaster you reported here that killed 1,300 FILIPINO SOULS.

Keep up the good work!

Suffice to say, Alecks Pabico wasn’t very amused.

My ultimate point here (and I realise now that this thing with Big Media is no different to our thing with Big Politics) is that there are ways and means of making our freedom truly work for us. The results are not instantaneous and therefore we need to be prepared to overcome our addiction to the kind of instant gratification we have become comfy with in the past age of “revolution”. We need to make the system work for us by working with it properly. But to do so requires that we all, as a people, step up and apply a critical mind to our politics and the information we get from the Media.

Are you an AntiPinoy?


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12 Responses to The establishmentisation of the Philippine Media

  1. GabbyD says:

    there was coverage of the “public services” commericals when it was investigated by the senate (with soundbytes from senator santiago)

    a question:

    what to you is the appropriate ratio of natural disaster VS political news stories a news outfit must have?

  2. HusengBatute says:

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?)

    The Media believes that its role is to guard freedom and democracy through its right to freedom of speech. But, if the Media fails to present balanced or impartial content, and expect the ‘tyranny of the masses’ to hold sway or exert some influence over the rest of the society to cater to its self-interests, then there is need for more and more people to be critical of the Media. Media nowadays simply functions as propaganda, and the masses tend to swallow it uncritically hook, line, and sinker. Thank God for the internet and independent content.

  3. benign0 says:

    @ Gabbyd, I don’t have an opinion on a precise airtime ratios for the range of news stories. Do you?

    @ HusengBatute, trouble with those who have the resources and the skills to be critical of the Media is that the scope of critical evaluation is often limited to whatever range Pinoy society had already conditioned them (or imprisoned their minds) to apply. There needs to be more lateral thinking applied when regarding the kind of information we ingest from Media and our politicians. There is great responsibility on those who have access to a broad scope of insight to voice their opinions and point out improprieties and lapses of judgment the appreciation of which simply lie outside the general range of thinking of average Pinoys and traditional “experts” in the islands.

  4. GabbyD says:


    you don’t? if so, why did you criticize PCIJ about the ‘lack’ of articles about national disasters?

    if you think there isn’t enough, then what is enough?

  5. benign0 says:

    you don’t? if so, why did you criticize PCIJ about the ‘lack’ of articles about national disasters?

    if you think there isn’t enough, then what is enough?

    You implied a “ratio” when you asked me your question, GabbyD. On the deleted comment I cited in the PCIJ, this is what I said.

    TWO mudslide-related articles out of 15-odd politically-motivated articles in the last several weeks since the disaster you reported here that killed 1,300 FILIPINO SOULS.

    Let me ask you. Would you say a ratio of 2 mudslide-related articles to 15 political articles over a 2-3 period within which a disaster killing 1,300 people occurred be “enough” for you?

    My assertion is that 2 out of 15 isn’t enough. Your question is how much IS enough. Well, ok, what is a good number with regard to the above context?

    5 out of 15?

    10 out of 15?

    For discussion’s sake, let’s say my answer to your question is the latter: 10 out of 15.

    What then would you make of that?

  6. GabbyD says:

    ” Well, ok, what is a good number with regard to the above context?”

    i have no idea. why isnt 2 enough? you believe it isnt enough. my question is why. further, if it isnt enough, then there must come a point where its ‘enough’. what is that point. is it 10? why ten?

    generically speaking, the number of articles depends on several factors, both relating to demand for the story, and the supply of the story (by supply, i mean, new information left to discuss).

    are you saying that there was pertinent info that wasnt discussed in the 2 articles? something they forgot to mention?

    surely, you have something in mind here about how you got the notion that 2 isnt enough. i’m curious as to what that is.

    • BenK says:

      What’s enough, in my opinion, is whatever corresponds to the media consumer’s level of personal concern with different subject areas. That can be different for each individual person. For example, do you spend 13/15 of your time thinking about political topics? If you do, then of course you would consider that PCIJ met your media needs in the time period we’re discussing. I suspect that you probably have other things on your mind that lower that ratio significantly, as do most people.

    • I wonder if GabyD thinks that 2 to 15 ratio is enough?

      In any case, if the news information remains shallow, even if you add 2 and 15, they are still not enough and too much at the same time!

      “Not enough” because we still don’t get the right info… “Too much” because we get nonsense!

  7. Nitramy says:

    Dios mio, we’re just at the “News and Public Affairs” part of Big Broadcasting.

    We haven’t gone to their “ENTERTAINMENT” portfolio, which is a whole other barrel of worms – with their own time-honored and ultra-reliable tropes, to boot!

    And you watch a “documentary” about how the education system FAILS at teaching ENGLISH when even ENGLISH programs are dubbed in FILIPINO, SO WHAT THE HELL, BIG BROADCASTING?! WHAT THE HELL!

    (props to TV5 for having the cujones to show off Nina Einstein and her table-humping shenanigans, though. pity they’ll replace it with more korean soap opera dreck.)

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