News as Entertainment
by Karlin E. Galao, Mari Joie A. Ladia, Lyka T. Manglal-lan and Venus Clarisse Tenorio
Published in the May-June 2011 issue of PJR Reports
PRESIDENT AQUINO’s love life, Pope John Paul II’s beatification, and the British royal wedding were among the major stories in the Philippine media last April. These landed on the front pages or were leading stories in the major broadsheets and TV news programs. Although one could speculate that the coverage of Pope John Paul II’s beatification was driven by the belief that it would be of interest to Filipinos out of piety, what these stories seem to have had in common was entertainment value.
The same value is evident even in reporting events that could be characterized as serious. In many cases they are reported with an eye on their lighter or “human interest” angles in an effort to gain and hold public attention. These are in addition to the usual treatment of “soft news” from the show business and lifestyles beats.
PJR Reports monitored the front pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, The Manila Times, and the Manila Bulletin and the news programs TV Patrol, 24 Oras, Aksyon, and Teledyaryo during the entire month of April 2011 to determine the impact of the emphasis on entertainment value on news coverage. The monitor included photos on the frontpage.
Going by their April 2011 reporting, one could conclude that the content of the front pages of the broadsheets monitored consisted of a mix of hard and entertainment news. Satires and novelty articles were also regularly given space in both the Inquirer and the Star.
Photos with human interest and entertainment value also took up most of the space of the broadsheets monitored.
The Times front page had the largest percentage, at 33 percent, of articles in which the entertainment and human interest angles were emphasized, closely followed by the Inquirer at 32 percent. The Bulletin was third at 26 percent, and the Star, 19 percent.
On the other hand, the photographs that appeared in the Bulletin during the monitor period beat the other newspapers at 72.79 percent in terms of entertainment value, followed by the Inquirer with 53 percent and the Star at 46 percent.
Broadcast media have focused on the entertainment aspects or values of events as part of their effort to sustain high ratings. The “hook-and-hold” approach is evident as the practice of placing entertainment news between hard news.
The delivery of the news, however, has become more problematic as anchors now report hard news in the same way they report human interest news. Most anchors exaggerate their delivery, reporting events in rapid fire and high decibel fashion. TV news anchors Mike Enriquez, Erwin Tulfo, and Noli de Castro, who dominate the flagship news programs of the major networks, report the news in exactly the same exaggerated, high decibel manner.
On the other hand, this kind of delivery was not the issue in the networks’ reporting of the British royal wedding. What was at issue was what they chose to focus on, which were the venue of the wedding, the invited guests, what clothes the bride and her family wore, the food that was served, among others.
The beatification of Pope John Paul II could have been reported in a straightforward, no frills manner. Instead, the Philippine broadcast media opted to focus on such details as the supposedly life-changing experiences of Filipinos with the Pope. Papal relics and people named after Pope John Paul II were also featured as part of the beatification coverage.
The PJR Reports monitor found that 24 Oras had the most number of news reports that emphasized their entertainment angle, a 42.53 percent, followed closely by TV Patrol at 42.17 percent, and Aksyon, 38.66 percent.
Effects of trivialization
The emphasis on the entertainment value of events tends to mislead readers and viewers on the significance of those events by pandering to their impulse towards being entertained, thus undermining the basic media responsibility of providing the public both the details as well as the meaning of events.
Both the media’s duty as information provider and as “watchdog” is compromised as a result. As the BBC‘s Michael Buerk said: “A flawed media, I suggest, leads to a flawed democracy. Ill informed citizens cannot make proper judgments about their leaders’ actions, about the actions that take place in their names, about the laws that govern them.”
The indicators of media failure are everywhere in the “industry.” Many news organizations are losing money, indicating a loss of viewers/readers/listeners, among other reasons because the media organizations still cling to the old belief that it is entertainment rather than information that the public wants.
In furtherance of that belief, flagship news programs are strategically placed in primetime. But one of the biggest problems is the “news time bracket’s” becoming the arena of competition between the news programs and a variety show. TV5’s Wil Time Bigtime (preceded by defunct Willing Willie) is threatening to overtake the news programs in viewership and ratings. The show had a whopping 37.5 audience share during its premiere on May 13, and is one of the most viewed primetime shows—a clear indication that some, if not the majority of the public, are losing interest in watching news programs in favor of fluff.