Dreaming of a People’s TV

Katrina S.S.

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.