Media and 2010 Elections: Focus on blocktimers

Written on February 23, 2010 – 7:58 am | by mediaandelections |

As the 2010 elections draw near, journalists have urged the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) to look into radio blocktimers, particularly those funded by political candidates and government agencies. Blocktimers are individuals who buy blocks of radio time for programs which they then market to various advertisers and interests.

“The KBP should discern which block-timers are paid by political campaign groups. It is within the KBP’s powers to police the ranks of broadcast practitioners all over the country,” a group of journalists around the country said in a statement to KBP. “In a landmark election such as the 2010 ballot, the media should let voters know when talk shows are part of someone’s political campaign.”

The statement was drafted after print, broadcast, and electronic journalists attending a roundtable on the media coverage of elections organized by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) last Jan. 16 expressed concern over the impact of political blocktimers on the coming elections and on the integrity of journalism practice. CMFR drafted the letter, which was supported by 17 journalists who work in various parts of the Philippines. The letter was sent to KBP and posted online last Jan. 19.

With their air time paid for by candidates—some reportedly using

government funds— block-timers use their programs to promote their political patrons. Most block time programs are not identified as political advertising.

Many national and community news organizations profit during elections, when candidates spend lavish amounts for political advertisements and blocktime programs.

Urging the KBP to fulfill its mandate as a self-regulatory body for broadcast media, the journalists called on the KBP to compel its member-organizations to clearly identify which programs are paid for by political candidates.

“If it is paid for by a local government office, then the people should know that it is tax payers’ money that is being spent, in clear violation of the electoral law,” the group wrote.

“We are not calling for the banning of blocktimers or their sponsorship by political candidates. We are simply obliging them to make full disclosure of the nature of their programs. We are calling for the observance of ethical norms for the broadcast news media. This call does not violate anyone’s freedom of expression. On the contrary, we want the KBP to follow the fundamental prescriptions of free press practice,” the group reiterated. “The public should know if talk show programs have been bought to serve the purpose of advertising for candidates.”

With more than a hundred television and radio stations nationwide as its members, the KBP is the country’s biggest national association of broadcasters. The KBP also requires personnel of its member-stations, including blocktimers, to pass an accreditation exam to ensure that minimum standards of broadcast professionalism are met.

The statement was reported in various national and community-based publications such as The Philippine Star, Punto Central Luzon, and Davao Today.

“At stake indeed is the integrity of journalism,” Punto reacted to the statement in its Jan. 21 editorial. “Block-timers need not be blocked but named. So the public may know them. And what interests they represent.”

Some promptly wrote online or called CMFR to express their reactions regarding the statement. KBP-Davao issued a statement supporting the call.

CMFR’s 2007 News Media Monitor of Elections

Aside from signing a statement addressing paid-for political blocktimers, participants at the CMFR roundtable also discussed various issues, including: media monitoring as a way of prodding the media to cover what they are supposed to, the nature and quality of government-owned and –controlled press, and reporting on campaign finance and strategies.

The Jan. 16 roundtable in Makati was organized to review CMFR’s conclusions and recommendations in its media monitoring project in the 2007 elections. A review of the conclusions and recommendations CMFR made on the coverage of the 2007 elections was needed to guide news outlets on what to look out for in this year’s elections. Prior to the start of the national campaign in 2007, CMFR also presented to journalists the results of its monitor of media coverage of the 2004 elections.

In 2007, CMFR’s study showed that major players in the media community exerted more effort to provide the public both the information on as well as the context of the elections. This was evident in the proactive efforts by leading organizations to broaden coverage of independent candidates and small parties, and to provide the public information on the advocacies and/or programs of individual candidates.

In television, the public affairs programs focusing on elections deepened the discussion of issues. In addition, TV added to the program schedule special fora inviting candidates to talk about their platforms and advocacies with public feedback and interaction.

CMFR observed how leading media organizations minimized their emphasis on celebrity reporting. Their coverage also criticized media personalities who were running for office on the basis of their popularity but were clueless about platforms and programs. Partly as a result of this critical media stance, a number of celebrities, for the first time in over a decade, lost in 2007. Among those who failed to make it to an elective post was the extremely popular boxer Manny Pacquiao, who ran for congressman in his home town of General Santos, South Cotabato province.

A distinct change in the coverage of the elections in 2007 was a determined emphasis on the part of the broadsheets monitored, and the two major networks, to present and discuss development issues. In some cases the reports seemed to have come straight from the campaign headquarters of the individuals advocating this or that policy, but the networks managed to get discussions on development issues going by prodding candidates and groups to discuss their programs in special public affairs programs. That the latter managed to get the ratings despite competition from sitcoms and crime series should encourage the networks to continue these efforts in future coverage, CMFR said then.

Noting the lack of background understanding of basic electoral laws and development issues, CMFR also suggested in 2004 the holding of in-house seminars and other training activities. CMFR found that the big players in the media were better prepared in 2007 to cover the elections partly because of these in-house seminars and training activities. These should be standard practice in every elections, its intensity and coverage depending on the importance of the exercise to be covered.

Recommendations for 2010

Even before the start of the official campaign season, ABS-CBN 2 and GMA-7 had taken the initiative to get declared contenders to speak on issues in its leadership forum series. The programs were well received and the ensuing related coverage in other media had already set the tone for a more substantive coverage for 2010.

Reminders against the usual failings will be needed in the pre-monitor period, among them the tendency to cover only the major parties and the already well known candidates, and to focus on controversial and sensational events. This tended to make the effort by the various contending groups and individuals to attract media attention focused on doing, saying, or being involved in something controversial as well as in involving celebrity wives and husbands.

The 2007 elections also brought into sharper focus the need to reform the public information networks, currently consisting of the government-owned TV station NBN-4, and sequestered TV and radio stations RPN-9 and IBC-13 as well as their affiliates. Under existing conditions these networks have tended to serve as the public relations outlets of whatever administration is in power rather than as public information vehicles. The distinctly partisan manner in which they reported the campaign, in contrast to that of the fairly neutral coverage by the privately owned networks, is an argument for the implementation of the standing government policy of privatizing ownership of the sequestered stations.

As demonstrated in the 2007 coverage, media can be pro-active and can prod reluctant candidates and groups into stating what their programs and views are on the issues that concern the public most. CMFR recommended that news organizations should strive to be more pro-active in pressing candidates and groups about their programs and views on issues. Media should also listen to the people and ask what they think about issues.

As in 2004 and 2007, CMFR recommends that news organizations conduct consultations with experts in governance, politics, and Philippine society and its problems. Such exposure can help insure the comprehensive discussion of issues concerning politics, economics and culture, and thus help the electorate transcend the politics of personality that has characterized Philippine electoral campaigns since 1947.

Of equal importance is the need to broaden media coverage of the party list elections, smaller parties, and lesser known candidates to offset the advantage of well funded parties and individuals who have the means to advertise over television as the now preferred medium for political advertisements. Although there are indications that spending the most on political ads is no guarantee of victory, lesser known candidates are still at a name recall disadvantage only wider coverage could offset. This is vital to the critical task of providing the public information on the options open to it as far as choosing its leaders is concerned.

As in 2004 and 2007, CMFR suggested better preparation in terms of familiarizing reporters and editors with the Omnibus Election Act, the Fair Election Act, the Party List Act, the Overseas Absentee Voting Act and pertinent provisions of the Philippine Constitution.(Click here for various election laws of the Philippines)

Even as improvements in the coverage by the television networks and by the broadsheets monitored was evident in the 2007 elections, AM radio and the tabloids are in danger of being left behind as credible sources of information, among other reasons due to their continuing bias. The KBP has launched refresher courses in reporting and commentary for radio broadcasters, which hopefully should not be limited to provincial practitioners. On the other hand, although most media advocacy and training groups have given up on the tabloids, this stance should be reexamined in the light of the tabloids’ large circulations, some tabloid editors’ concern over the reporting in their publications, and their efforts, no matter how limited, to mandate adherence to ethical and professional standards.

A complete discussion of CMFR conclusions and recommendations during the 2007 media monitoring project is in “The CMFR Monitor News Media Coverage of the 2007 National Elections” (pages 9-56).

Framing the 2010 reportage

Given the special nature of the current electoral campaign with the emergence of Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as a leading presidential contender, the coverage can be framed as a battle between reform-minded politicians and trapos (traditional politicians). The media will need to reframe the coverage to involve candidates in the discussion and debate about critical policy concerns confronting the citizenry, such as: the role of the military, the reform of police and military, the agenda for Mindanao and related issues, population policy, economic recovery in times of crisis, initiatives to counter endemic and systemic corruption.

Scope

CMFR’s 2007 media monitoring project of the elections reviewed the coverage of senatorial and party-list campaign from the start of the campaign period in February to election day itself. For the project, it reviewed the front pages of three leading broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star) and six television news programs (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol World and Bandila, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and Saksi, ABC-5’s Sentro, and NBN-4’s Primetime Teledyaryo). CMFR continued to conduct its regular monitor of the other broadsheets and news programs.

The monitor also had supplemental studies of the campaign and election coverage of online sites (abs-cbnnews.com, Bulatlat, Davao Today, GMANews.TV, Inquirer.net, Newsbreak, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism) and election day itself. Selecting certain periods for analysis, CMFR also looked at the coverage of eight public affairs programs (Probe, Correspondents, i-Witness, Palaban, Philippine Agenda, Reporter’s Notebook, Forum 2007: The Senatorial Elections and Forum 2007: The Midterm Elections) four tabloids (Abante, Bulgar, People’s Journal, and Tempo), three radio programs (from dzBB, dzMM, and dzRH), and political advertisements in three leading broadsheets and seven television news programs. CMFR also reviewed how news outlets prepared themselves for the 2007 campaign and elections.

From the start of the campaign up until after the elections, CMFR issued biweekly reports about the coverage with the help of student-volunteers and interns from the University of the Philippines, St. Scholastica’s College, Far Eastern University, and the University of Santo Tomas. These interns and volunteers assisted the CMFR staff under the overall direction of CMFR deputy director Luis V. Teodoro who also served as professor and former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) in Diliman and UP CMC professor Danilo Arao.

CMFR Monitor of the News Media Coverage of 2013 Elections

Given the special nature of the 2013 campaign and elections, the media’s role as credible and critical sources of information and analysis during the election season bears watching. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is monitoring the news media coverage of the 2013 campaign and elections in the context of both the special circumstances in which they were taking place, and the opportunity for improved and meaningful reporting and analysis the exercise offered to the Philippine media. 

CMFR has been monitoring media coverage of Philippine elections since 1992, and in every instance has made recommendations towards the improvement of media coverage. These efforts have not been unrewarded. Changes in media coverage incorporating some of the recommendations of the CMFR monitor in 2004 were evident, for example, in the media coverage of the 2007 elections.


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