Improving coverage by the public/current affairs programs

Written on May 14, 2010 – 2:38 pm | by mediaandelections |

The Philippine media covered  election-related events and personalities aggressively during the campaign season. News media organizations such as ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. (ABS-CBN 2 and ABS-CBN News Channel) and GMA Network Inc. (GMA-7 and sister-station QTV 11) pooled together their resources in partnership with other groups to provide what was probably the widest  multimedia coverage of the local and national elections.

The usual news programs kept track of events on a daily basis from day one of the campaign (February 9) to election day.  But it was the public/current affairs programs that provided the in-depth discussions,  analyses and contextualization those events needed for them to be meaningful to the public.

Public affairs programs

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) monitored the following public/current affairs shows from February 9 to May 10:  The Correspondents , Halalan (Election) and Failon Ngayon (Failon Today) [ABS-CBN 2]; Strictly Politics and Talkback with Tina Palma (ANC); and Reporter’s Notebook, I-witness, OFW Diaries, and Kandidato (Candidate) [GMA-7].

The public/current affairs programs over television shared a common effort to explain campaign and election-related issues like the complicated party-list system and the first-ever poll automation system.  The multimedia networks also abandoned the he-said-she-said variety of reporting and  concentrated on on deepening public understanding of  such topics as campaign finance, the possibility of a failure of elections,  and the platforms of candidates.

Compared to their past records as monitored by CMFR election-coverage studies, media performance  was  much improved in the 2010 campaign period, specifically in the use by the public/current affairs programs of resource persons/experts, their follow-up reports, and their interviews which contributed to a more comprehensive discussion of the complicated issues of Philippine elections, politics and governance.

Campaign funds versus officials’ salaries

This year’s elections can be considered the most expensive yet, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). The parties and candidates, including some running for local office, spent most of their budgets on television advertisements, verifying  the findings of CMFR’s monitor of political advertisements.  PCIJ noted that even in the months before the official campaign period, six presidential candidates had already “racked up advertising values on television, radio and print media worth a whopping P2.1 billion.”

ABS-CBN’s The Correspondents covered the sensitive issue of campaign funds and computed how much each presidential candidate was spending  in its Mar. 2 episode “Gaano kalalim ang bulsa? (How deep is the pocket?).”  Although it tried, unfortunately not one of the nine candidates vying for the highest position in the land provided information, much less documentation, on his or her campaign expenses. The program episode noted how much a president earns in his six years in office, compared it to the cost of his or her campaign, the  bulk of which was going  to television advertisements.

The same program noted the increasing number of candidates for councilor, the lowest position at stake in the  2010 elections. In its episode “Little Congressman,” the program accounted for this phenomenon by noting how much power a councilor actually wields despite his or her  seemingly humble position.

An episode of another ABS-CBN program, Failon Ngayon, compared some candidates’ probable campaign budgets with the salary he or she would be receiving. Failon Ngayon interviewed political experts in its Mar. 13 episode to explain why 50, 262 candidates nationwide are competing for  17, 999 seats in government, and spending millions in their campaigns despite the meager salaries they would be paid once in office.

On the other hand, ANC’s Strictly Politics aired an episode entitled “Packaging a president” last March 2 explaining that neither Comelec nor the Advertising Standards Council is mandated to screen political advertisements. Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in the program that the Comelec only requires the broadcast logs and advertising contracts of the candidates and that there is no content checking before the advertisements are aired.

The party-list system finally explained

The party-list system is certainly the most confusing to many  voters. Even the Commission on Elections (Comelec) admitted that it was having problems drafting appropriate guidelines in the screening of alleged party-list groups.

GMA-7’s  Reporter’s Notebook devoted an episode on the party list system’s history and how a party-list group can get a seat in the House, as well as how many groups are contending for the 55 seats reserved for party list groups in the Lower House. The program went into an explanation of the powers of a party-list representative, and how traditional politicians who do not really belong to  marginalized sectors often end up as nominees of party list groups.

Strictly Politics also looked into the issue of party-list representatives, in response to many “concerned citizens’”  protesting the nomination of Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo as representative of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list, supposedly an organization of security guards and tricycle drivers, as well as the nomination of Angelo Reyes as representative of transport group 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK).

Surveys and popularity contests

In its  2004 report on the campaign and elections coverage by the media, CMFR noted that undue prominence had been given  surveys and that this was  creating  mis-impressions about the nature of public opinion. The campaign and elections coverage in 2010  was not very different in this respect.

Talkback with Tina Palma of ANC interviewed representatives from the different parties to explain how important survey results are to their standard bearers and to their campaign strategies.

In an episode titled “Are surveys helping you choose the next president?” dated March 9, the representatives agreed that surveys do tell them how effective their campaigns are, but viewers who expressed their opinions through short messaging system (SMS) and online generally said that surveys only serve as guides and it is still up to them to decide who the next president should be.

The down side of this episode was that only the representatives from Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and Lakas-Kampi CMD were featured. There was no one to present the views of presidential candidates Richard “Dick” Gordon, Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva, John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes and Nicanor “Nick” Perlas.

Strictly Politics also featured  on March 2 the convenient store giant 7-11’s “7-election” promotion, through which consumers can “vote” for a presidential candidate by choosing the Gulp® cup with the face of  their choice on it.

First-ever automated election

Excitement over the first ever automation of Philippine elections and fears of the possibility that the new system will fail intensified as May 10 neared. ABS-CBN’s Matanglawin (Hawk eye) May 2 episode and The Correspondents’ Feb. 16 episode explained how to vote in the elections as well as  automation’s possible complications. The latter focus  explored the possibility of a failure of the automated elections, which could lead to a power vacuum since the terms of the highest officials of  the land will expire on June 30.

In the Feb. 23 episode of Talkback with Tina Palma, election watchdogs and a Comelec representative were invited to discuss what could fail in the automated elections. The media thus provided what Comelec’s infomercials on the voting process failed to include, such as the intricacies and possible failure of automation, as well as what should be done in case there was a power blackout.

Profiles

Airtime is a limiting factor to how much information a report can give to the audience. The whole platform and the personal background of all the candidates for a certain position cannot  be presented in a single episode. Realizing this weakness, some public/current affairs programs dedicated  entire episodes to each candidate to give their audiences a chance to examine the people behind the names in the ballot and their plans for their country.

GMA 7’s Kandidato (Candidate) and ANC’s Strictly Politics allocated one episode per presidential candidate, the latter even inviting the whole national slate of each presidential candidate.   GMA 7’s Reporter’s Notebook” also created a series devoted to  the vice presidential candidates and their takes on various issues.

The public affairs programs interviewed not only  candidates and party representatives but also political experts, non-candidates like Sen. Francis Escudero, and the representatives of government agencies such as the Comelec to provide needed  context in the election reports. In profiling the candidates and in the debates, the programs invited notable personalities and groups from different sectors of  society, such as the church (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) and even the media itself (Malou Mangahas from the PCIJ).

Room for improvement

While the current affairs news programs did provide much needed information on the backgrounds, track records and plans presidential aspirants the airtime they allotted to the  vice-presidential candidates and senatorial candidates was  significantly less. Worse, only a handful of party-list groups was covered by the public affairs programs, despite efforts to enlighten the public on how the party-list system worked.

The  public/current affairs programs did  better  this election season compared compared to the 2004 and the 2007 seasons. The number of public affairs reports on vice-presidential candidates, senatorial candidates and party-lists significantly increased.  Election stories were also generally assigned to veteran reporters and anchors..

Most of the programs were still aired late at night, but they were also posted as whole videos or text summaries online after the show’s airing. While ANC’s Strictly Politics and Talkback with Tina Palma used English as their primary medium, most public affairs programs used Filipino to reach out to more viewers. Viewers were also  given the chance to  comment as some of the programs were airing, as in Talkback with Tina Palma.

Other issues still not forgotten

The public/current affairs programs continued to address other issues not  directly  about the campaign and elections. Nevertheless, some of these issues could have been  tied to the plans of action of the candidates  aspiring for the country’s highest posts.

It has only been a few months since the Ampatuan massacre–the single deadliest event for journalists in the whole history—yet the reportage on the judicial process has significantly declined. ABS-CBN 2’s Profiles in the whole month of March dedicated an entire episode on the massacre and the victims’ families dated March 3, while ANC’s Media in Focus tackled March 10 whether the press coverage on the event was really waning or not.

On human rights violations, Reporter’s Notebook exposed in its Feb. 23 episode the sidelined details on the Morong 43 such as the maltreatment of the arrested health workers.

El Niño, which alone caused P75 million worth of crop damages in Cebu and P4 billion in Isabela respectively, was given attention by The Correspondents and Reporter’s Notebook in their March 30 and March 2 episodes, respectively.

The controversial decision by the Supreme Court that the president can appoint the next Chief Justice and its connection to the rumored strategy of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to stay in power was assessed by The Correspondents in its April 6 episode “Hukuman ni Gloria (Court of Gloria)?”

Only in the latter case, however, was the issue linked to the campaign, despite these concerns’ relevance to public policy.

Election-related specials

In addition to their regular news and public/current affairs shows, some media organizations  created special programs specifically to provide audiences with more information on a candidate’s knowledge on laws as well as how he or she looks at issues such as agrarian reform and women’s rights. Some examples:

GMA-7’s Isang Tanong (One Question)  featured people vying for the two highest positions in the land as of Nov. 22 last year.

GMA’s dzBB AM radio station launched Ikaw na ba (Are you the one)? in February this year in which presidential and vice-presidential candidates were interviewed one-on-one by host Mike Enriquez. Some clips of these interviews were aired over GMA-7/QTV news programs.

ANC’s Harapan (Face-off) was an election debate program that pitted candidates against each and aired on Dec. 2, Mar. 22 and Apr. 19.

“Strictly Politics” also created a mini series on the presidential candidates together with their  senatorial slates.

ANC’s Square Off, a show hosting debates for university students, also grilled senatorial candidates on issues in itselection special.

The Platform elicited the presidential candidates’ perspectives on issues such as agrarian reform and the reproductive health bill..

Bandila (Flag) of ABS-CBN also tried to interview presidential and vice-presidential candidates in a segment  called “Hot Seat,” but the candidates were not all available, especially on the day of the miting de avance.

TV 5’s Timbangan (Weighing Scale) also examined the platforms of  the presidential candidates on issues. A “jury” rated the candidates as “pwede na (passed),” “pwedeng-pwede (very good)and “hindi pwede (bad).”

Government network NBN 4 produced “Hatol ng Bayan (Nation’s Judgment), ”  which not only focused on the national election candidates but also on the local elections.

Monica Joy Cantilero

Download the report here (in Word or PDF).

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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