THERE were two dominant reactions to the proposal of a People’s Television in the last column.
One was a belief that what was meant was Marcosian Martial Law television. The other was a yawn—it has been said before, planned before, imagined before, and nothing ever came of it.
What it is not: Marcosian TV
It bears repeating that nowhere in that column about a People’s TV did I assert that it should be similar to or go in the direction of Martial Law TV, which existed primarily on censorship and the repression of free speech, and the use of culture as a way to propagate government propaganda.
In fact, the context of that dream of a People’s TV by Angela Stuart-Santiago in EDSA Uno Dos Tres (2013) was the Martial Law regime, and the post-EDSA 1986 years that led to 2013. What it was, more than anything, was an assessment of the past 30 years, and how that has brought us to this damaged present. More importantly, what it is that we can do.
“In 1986 Post-EDSA, television was awash with public affairs talk shows; people were hungry for information after 14 years of fairy tales. Today, 26 years later, there is not a single public affairs talk show on free TV. Not one. Just a lot of entertainment and escapist fare and showbiz talkies where best-selling celebrity affairs are assiduously and gleefully played up, and even treated as news, alongside news spins on current political issues by rival political camps (including government and church) that are forever jostling for more power. No wonder people are inadequately informed, don’t know whom to believe on the true state of the nation, and reduced to trusting blindly in the promises of politicians and big business that prosperity is nigh, patience is a virtue. But after decades of failed promises, the people’s patience is wearing thin, and people are seriously asking why development is so elusive and poverty so pervasive, what are we doing wrong? Only when we get answers to questions like these can we begin to think up ways of doing things better, doing things right, this time for the good of the whole.” (353)
And yes, doing things better, and doing things right, can be done through a People’s Television. Not at all of the Martial Law years, but also not at all of the post-EDSA86 years, and certainly not the kind of TV that we’ve had in the past decade or so.
What it is: alternative programming
This requires a more honest, and necessarily painful, assessment of current television.
What is on current TV that has dumbed down the nation? How are news and current affairs handled, what questions are not asked, what discussions are not had? What is on mainstream TV during primetime, and what do these shows feed the public about the state of the nation?
It is only when we admit to the limits of current programming that we might imagine alternative programming for a People’s Television. And it is here that the possibilities are endless—and exciting—given the amount of creativity and talent that exists in this country, given the local material and bodies of work at our disposal.
Let’s ask our filmmakers if they are willing to show their works on free local TV—from Lav Diaz’s eight-hour opus to classics from Experimental Cinema, from short films that rarely get mileage to film festival winners (and losers) that people can’t afford—or don’t know—to watch in cinemas. Let’s bring back the documentary: the in-your-face, painful-to-watch narratives that pointedly speak of the root causes of our poverties—literal and figurative—and dare pin the blame on the culprits behind this state of affairs.
Bring back the talk shows—and no, not this sorry excuse for a talk show that has been perfected by Boy Abunda—but the good ol’ Louie Beltran, Dong Puno, Randy David, Jullie Yap-Daza shows, where guests argue, debates are had, and the host functions not as pretend-objective voice of reason, but as partisan participant in the discussion. S/he is on the side of the majority who are impoverished, marginalized, oppressed.
No issue is off-limits, because there will be “real space for debates on festering issues” such as “political dynasties, pork barrel, minimum wage, coco levy fund, foreign troops, Jonas Burgos, reproductive health, K-12, foreign exchange, separation of church and state, presidential vs. parliamentary governments, charter change, debt payments, VAT, and national industrialization. There would be a place for panel discussions, sectoral and regional, intercultural and interdisciplinary.” (Stuart-Santiago, 354)
What it could become
This People’s TV need not be government-owned or supported. In fact, it would be great if it was a private non-profit enterprise—heaven knows the rich and wealthy in this country can afford to give back through this national IQ-raising campaign.
But now that it is being made possible in a Duterte administration, well, who are we to complain? Only a President-elect who does not shy from the truth, and is not one to mince words, would be able to handle the independence of a People’s Television.
After all, he will have his own show through which he can respond to critics. And just as the new President will have his time on air, so should the rest of government—give Cabinet secretaries, government offices, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the PCOO a fixed number of hours per week to talk about their projects. Give them time to do their information dissemination campaigns as well.
The promise of this People’s TV, though, is that when it is not on government time, it can actually be critical of government and will dare ask questions of the President and his policies. It’s the only way to level up the discourse and improve our collective critical thinking.
The key—and this is the task for incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar—is balance. And don’t get me wrong, it will be more difficult than even I can imagine. But if this government’s actually willing to take on this task, I’d rather throw some unsolicited advice in its direction, instead of falling silent and dismissing the exercise just because I’ve heard it before.
The latter just makes me complicit in the enterprise of refusing to give this new government a chance, and disengaging from everything it just might do right. One can only wonder whom that serves.
Category: people’s TV
IT has gotten such a negative reaction, the statement of incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar, that the Rodrigo Duterte government will print its own tabloid, build a website, and do a weekly presidential TV and radio talk show.
The naysayers in our midst with no sense of hope nor creativity, rebel rousers interested only in the cause of discrediting everything this new government plans to do, have laughed at the idea, not to mention raised fears by referencing Marcosian times—the better to sow distrust in our hearts. It would do us all well not to believe them.
Daang Matuwid sets the stage
To be fair with the PNoy government, it has set the stage for the Duterte government to actually do a real People’s Television at this time.
In 2013, it announced that it would allocate P5 billion to upgrade PTV-4 from 2014 to 2016 (Inquirer.net, 20 Mar 2013). In July 2013, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for Republic Act No. 10390 or the Act Revitalizing The People’s Television Network, Inc. was approved by current PCOO Secretary Sonny Coloma (PTV.ph). In 2015, the new organizational structure for PTV-4 was approved (President.gov.ph, 9 Jul 2015).
Contrary to the distrust in the idea of State media or State TV given memories of Martial Rule, it can be done—and has been done—better than those years. And regardless, Andanar and the Duterte government can be the first ones to follow the laws that govern the creation and revitalization of a People’s Television Network, which will “give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development,” and “serve as a vital link for participative democracy and effective government information dissemination … free from any political or partisan influence and held accountable directly to the people.”
With Duterte, this seems all the more possible. With a new President who is open to having discussions about difficult issues, who gives honest answers about problems that are insurmountable (his word), and who admits that he is still studying certain issues, the dream of a real People’s Television is within reach. Because we can all study these same issues, we can all form our own opinions, and we can all learn as a public, too—something we have been unable to do with mainstream media for so many years, and especially the past six.
The perfect time for People’s Television
Angela Stuart-Santiago ended her last book EDSA Uno: A Narrative and Analysis with Notes on Dos and Tres (2013) hopeful for an intellectual level-up for nation, one premised on the creation of a People’s Television (not necessarily PTV-4) that would engage in a “national IQ-raising campaign targeting young and old, rich and poor alike.” This would be supported by the rich as a way of paying back the nation, and paying-it-forward to the people.
Excerpts from Stuart-Santiago, which now sounds like a plan waiting for a President Duterte (and a Secretary Andanar) to happen for nation:
“There is room for a People’s Television in the public life. There is room for information and critical thinking, discussion and debate, alongside mainstream and showbiz news. There is room for language programs and science lessons, history and heritage, culture and art studies, alongside entertainment and escapist fare.
… “How else to get answers than through a people’s TV station … an alternative to the mainstream channels’ mindless entertainment and insipid news reporting—for thinking Filipinos across classes. Geared towards public service and nation-building, with countrywide grassroots reach, it would be programmed to inform and educate, in both English and Tagalog (KSS: and Bisaya). There would be time not only to report news in more detail but to place current events in the context of government policies and in the light of historical patterns, the clearer for us to see what we need to break out of and where new trails need to be blazed.
“There would be space for real debates on festering issues. … We would pick the minds of our best thinkers from left, right, and center—economists and agriculturists, bankers and traders, political and social scientists, doctors and lawyers, OFWs and laborers, writers and teachers—and challenge them to hammer out a sustainable development strategy acceptable to all shades of the political spectrum, which would entail rising above elite interests and reconciling differences for the benefit of the most number. All of it on-air, so we can listen in and learn, even ask questions and take part in discussions and decisions via phone, text, and social media.
“Only creatives—producers, writers, directors, researchers, video and graphic artists—with a high bias for the Filipino people, and a sense of the economic, environmental, educational, health, and language problems that hound us, need apply. Programs would be designed to harness and maximize the awesome consciousness-raising powers of television, reaching out to the masses with a message of shared identities and shared fates, inviting every family and community, far and wide, to participate in local and national deliberations, the better to arrive at a consensus on the issues that divide us.” (353-355)
Who’s afraid of People’s Television?
This is not too good to be true, it is possible, and it can be done.
Our problem really might be mainstream media and its practitioners who, for whatever reason, are already painting this to be nothing but an excuse for government propaganda, when it can be so much more than that.
In 2013 it was also reported that GMA 7’s Felipe Gozon was thinking of filing a case against RA 10390, because the TV network business was already “crowded” and he didn’t think it was fair for taxpayers’ money to be funding a People’s Television that would compete with mainstream networks. (Philstar.com, 25 Mar 2013)
But see, how would a real People’s Television, as enshrined in the law and as envisioned above, be competition for the other networks? None of them have the shows that we need, none of them put the people we need to hear on air, and none of them discuss issues in-depth, no holds barred, beyond elite interests and big business. This People’s Television will not be in competition with any of the networks, because it will do what mainstream networks refuse to do.
If it does it well, then yes, it might get its own share of viewers and sponsors here and there—but that should only push the mainstream networks to start thinking of their programming, and maybe level-up and take its cues from People’s Television.
Either way, it’s a win-win situation for a public that we always say is misinformed and uneducated. Here’s our chance to push for something that will change that.