The audience first, or the public be damned?

by Bryant L. Macale and John Reiner M. Antiquerra

Noticeable in the coverage of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona as this issue of PJR Reports was going to press was the abundance of news channels covering the trial. Among them was Solar News, which started broadcasting only last Jan. 16 with live coverage of the Chief Justice Renato Corona impeachment trial.

New player

Solar News’ live coverage of the Corona impeachment trial was aired via TALKtv, which airs mostly U.S.-based programs such as NBC Nightly News and Inside Edition. As of press time, Solar News did not yet have any local news or public affairs program; its news coverage was solely on the impeachment trial special, which was being anchored by former ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) veterans Jing Magsaysay and Pia Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan with the help of young journalists.

So why was Solar News organized, given the existence of the other news channels such as ABS-CBN’s ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel), GMA-7’s GMA News TV, and TV5’s AksyonTV?

Magsaysay with Ferdie Aboga of Solar News (left). Photo by John Reiner M. Antiquerra. For more photos, please click:

“There’s always room for another news channel because of the wealth of information that’s available. And we would like to think that there is room for a news channel that can provide news reports people can actually use,” Magsaysay told PJRR last Jan. 13. Magsaysay is the network’s senior vice-president for news and current affairs.

“Gone are the days when a network would tell someone, sit down at 6 p.m. and I’ll tell you what’s going on in the world. That’s not the world today,” he said. “What we will do is we will bring the news to wherever you are and whatever device you have—whatever technology you adapt, we will adapt to that technology.”

Ferdie Aboga, the network’s senior manager for news production, also promises that Solar News would be different from the other news channels and newscasts—in at least one respect: it will not air police stories.

“Solar News will not be airing police stories just for the sake of feeding the tabloid needs of the people,” he said. “If ever we feature police stories, it will be if that story has an impact on the lives of the people. If it involves high officials, we will carry that story but we will not feature stories about rapes because it doesn’t really help the people and you are just trying to victimize the victim again by doing that kind of report.”

Growing competition

Two news channels were launched only last year: AksyonTV of TV5 and GMA News TV of GMA-7. Unlike ANC, the first news channel in the country, both AksyonTV and GMA News TV are in Filipino.

Launched last Feb 21, 2011, AksyonTV is a hybrid. For most of the day, the network broadcasts radio programs (aired simultaneously on TV5’s radio platform). At night, it carries TV programs from its mother station TV5.

TV5's Cruz-Valdes. Photo by John Reiner M. Antiquerra. For more photos, please click:

Luchi Cruz-Valdes, TV5’s news and information head, explains the core difference between Aksyon TV and the other news channels. “Because we’re radio on TV, our thrust is public service,” she told PJRR in an interview. Aksyon TV encourages its viewers and listeners to send or call in their feedback (including complaints on air) and tries to respond to them and at least approach the responsible agency or institution to address the issue. “That’s something you can’t do in regular TV programming,” Cruz-Valdes said.

A review of Aksyon TV last Jan. 12 showed it has a number of “public service” programs. For example, Relasyon dispenses legal opinion and advice to viewers/listeners. Aksyon Solusyon acts on complaints from the public. Aksyon TV has news fillers such as Bilang Tao: Kuryente which featured families who live in homes that still have no electricity. At night, public affairs programs such as Public Atorni (where disputes are mediated by Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta) and Todo Bigay (where a resident doctor gives medical advice) are aired.

According to Cruz-Valdes, Aksyon TV puts a premium on public service. “We’re just not going to report news, we’re going to give service where we can,” Cruz-Valdes said. In cases of disasters or natural calamities, for example, Aksyon TV will not just report news but also dispatch rescue boats or ambulance teams. During typhoon Ondoy, Cruz-Valdes noted how media became a source of assistance to the victims.

Valdellon of GMA News TV. Photo by John Reiner M. Antiquerra. For more photos, please click:

Also aired on free TV is GMA News TV which was launched Feb. 28, 2011. “We wanted a news channel on free TV that would be accessed by ordinary people because we feel that the masa in the Philippines deserves to know what’s going on at any time and they should have newscasts and public affairs programs at an earlier time slot,” station head Nessa Valdellon told PJRR last Jan. 19.

GMA News TV is an alternative, said Valdellon, to what has been the status quo in Philippine television news programming: newscasts that have many crime and entertainment stories, public affairs programs that air around midnight after the soap operas and entertainment shows, the lack of coverage of international news in the newscast, which results in the D and E classes’ (or masa) watching television only for entertainment.

“So we have programs such as State of the Nation with Jessica Soho that has in-depth interviews with newsmakers and which does not have regular showbiz and crime stories, as well as public affairs programs aired at 8 pm,” Valdellon added.

PJRR reviewed GMA News TV’s programs last Jan. 12. State of the Nation’s Soho did live interviews that lasted at least 5 minutes. Balita Ngayon attended to complaints and pleas from the public. Old programs from QTV such as Pinoy Abroad and Reunions were also aired that day. At 8 pm, the public affairs program Investigative Documentaries looked into some of the most common violations of laws and odinances by Filipinos such as jaywalking and illegal street peddling. It also looked into the illegal fees imposed by some government offices. A political satire program reminiscent of the defunct Sic O’ Clock News, May Tamang Balita, put a comic twist on some of the day’s biggest stories and newsmakers,

Radio on TV

Some radio networks, such as dzMM’s TeleRadyo and dzRH’s RHTV, also broadcast regularly on television 24/7.

Musngi of dzMM TeleRadyo. Photo by John Reiner M. Antiquerra. For more photos, please click:

Launched in April 2007, dzMM on television was created because of its dwindling audience share through the years especially with the rise of new media, ABS-CBN Manila Radio Division head Peter Musngi said in a Jan. 24 interview. “We felt we needed to reinvent ourselves.” He added that radio stations in other countries have already started experimenting with television as another platform for their programs.

TeleRadyo—which airs on cable—broadcasts all dzMM’s programs, which are mostly news and commentary as well as public service programs in Filipino. It carries the video feed of the dzMM booth. Video footage of selected programs from dzMM’s mother station, ABS-CBN (such as TV Patrol and selected public affairs programs), simulcast on radio can also be seen on TeleRadyo.

Aside from news and commentary programs, TeleRadyo also carries public service programs that dispense medical advice (Magandang Gabi Dok) and discuss legal issues (Usapang de Campanilla), among others, as a Jan. 12 PJRR monitor found.

Robust media growth

Meanwhile, ABS-CBN’s ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), launched in July 1996 and the first news channel in the Philippines, welcomes the growth of news channels locally.

ABS-CBN/ANC's Reyes. Photo by John Reiner M. Antiquerra. For more photos, please visit:

“It’s an indication of the robustness of the media industry in this country,” said Regina Reyes, senior vice president of ABS-CBN’s news and current affairs and managing director of ANC, in a Jan. 14 interview. “You can see our industry is really alive, it’s really very proactive, it’s really very aggressive.”

After more than 15 years of operations, Reyes says ANC is proud to have been the go-to platform for people who want news and analysis. “Government official, leaders, movers, shakers, professors, educators, students—anyone who has a stake in the growth of this country—tunes in to ANC,” she said. “When you say ANC, everybody knows what ANC is. Everybody, who has cable at least, is aware that it’s the 24 hour-news channel of ABS-CBN and it’s the first in the country.”

PJRR monitored ANC’s coverage last Jan. 12. Aside from local programs, ANC also airs news feeds from foreign news organizations CNBC and Al Jazeera. In its Tamano Perspective program, the Corona impeachment trial was discussed in detail. Business Nightly reported on the business stories and issues of the day.

English is still the predominant language of ANC programs, although, as Reyes points out, it is now broadcasting bilingual shows. Even the station’s coverage of Corona’s impeachment trial is in both English and Filipino. ANC, which airs on cable, is also strengthening the news content of its sister channel Studio 23 which is on free TV.

“It (Studio 23) didn’t have that before, it didn’t have that kind of news content, but now, we put together that kind of programming for Studio 23’s audience because we do know and are sensitive to the needs, the news needs—information, explanation, analysis—of that part of our market,” Reyes said.

What the entry of one more TV news channel into the picture, and the attempt to rethink existing channels into more news-heavy media should mean, is that an audience that has long been a mostly passive receiver of information, often heavily in favor of crime and celebrity news, that Philippine TV programming thinks will sell, will now have a choice as to where it will get its news. That’s to assume that the news channels will be true to their promise and claim of putting the audience in mind first. Or will they succumb to the same temptation of ratings first and the public be damned that drives Philippine TV programming?


See sidebar: “ making waves?