An outrageous dream (Updated)

Posted by VOSantos | Posted in Vergel O. Santos | Posted on 07-09-2012

THE FIRST image inspired by the government’s plan for its television network is one that indulges the miracle of soaring, yet wingless, ambition. In particular, the inspiration comes from the idealization of PTV as a BBC.

Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. tells the (Philippine) Daily Inquirer it’s the president’s own “vision to transform PTV’s image from a propaganda machine [as] in the past administration to a public service station…in the mold of the BBC.”

Given what all this entails in refinancing, reorganizing, and refitting, not to mention institutional reforming, all one can say is that it’s nice dreaming it. There is simply no reality in which the dream can be grounded; poverty of the basic means—financial and professional—alone makes it outrageous for PTV—or any other local network, for that matter—to aspire to anything comparable with BBC with any seriousness.

The British Broadcasting Company came along in a society already, even then, 90 years ago, entrenched in democracy and nationhood. Created by royal charter, the BBC has been financed by exactions of license fees from its audiences. But whatever you say about its oxymoronic nature—journalism served by a government network – it has been able to more than justify its existence: It is in fact held up as a professional ideal. Of course, the larger and longer-running British oxymoron is the anachronistic royalty. But its sentimental perpetuation also does not seem to have got in the way at all.

For all its deserved idealization, in other words, the BBC is unique.

But PTV?

That it has been operating in a culture of political patronage is PTV’s own excuse for not being. It’s a piece of the official territory of communications, a piece that in itself makes for a dominion— “turf,” as it has come to be known politically.

PTV is a most coveted turf indeed, preferred to the information agency PIA or the news agency PNA, preferred even to the entire bureau in which those two belong, and preferred to the Bureau of Broadcasts, which only keeps the radio network. It’s a setup not conducive to professionalism at all.

I’ve had myself an opportunity to observe it firsthand. In the presidency of Cory Aquino, the present president’s mother, her press secretary, Teddy Benigno, my former boss at the French news agency AFP, conscripted me to see what might be done with the media infrastructure inherited from the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, given the needs, means, and democratic avowals of the succeeding administration.

I proposed it keep the information agency and the radio network and sell—privatize—the rest of the infrastructure, including two sequestered television stations. I argued mainly from the perspective of economic priorities and democratic roles—news, for one thing, is intended as non-government business.

None has been sold, and little will fetch a decent price today since little is of any decent use, the infrastructure’s serviceability having been hugely eroded by modern technology.

Still, according to Coloma, who presumably will preside at the turf, Aquino the younger is sinking an initial P5 billion in PTV and allowing it to go commercial.

Well, there goes P5 billion of the people’s money; more of it in fact will go in a ceaseless chase of bad money after bad money—it’s all in the nature of the monster it has created and has to feed. With the government competing with the private media for audiences and advertisements, moreover, there go its democratic pretensions to fair trade, too.

From there, it should not be difficult to guess what’s going next.