The enemy within

After our experience with martial law, the media establishment has always looked at the government as the biggest threat to the freedom of the press. Indeed, the closure of almost all news organizations and the iron-clad censorship with which pro-government outlets were run during martial law leave big scars in the hearts and minds of journalists in the country. We always say, NEVER AGAIN.

But there is a bigger threat to media freedom that is creeping into media organizations, or at least in one radio station in Iloilo City, that is just coming to public notice. This is the clampdown being imposed by executives on the right of anchors and reporters to express their personal sentiments on Facebook. As revealed by Bert Ladera of RMN 774, there is immense pressure for him to stop posting quotations and views on his Facebook wall that certain executives of his station deem critical of their personas. There are no direct orders for Nadera to desist, but even volunteers in the station have been warned not to comment or even click on the “like” button.

A review of Bert Ladera’s postings show that these quotations could not be categorized as personal attacks. The quotations are sayings of famous people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the like. These are common place in Facebook.  But it appears his superiors take offense. They consider it an affront to read these quotations on Bert Ladera’s Facebook wall.

Bert says there are no overt moves yet to use the FB postings to discipline him. Well, I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that point. If it does, this will erupt into a major scandal about censorship in the ranks of media, and how the freedom of expression is violated by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

Clutching for straws (the radio ratings game)

Nothing becomes more contentious over the broadcast airlanes than the release of survey results on listenership for radio stations,’

In an industry that is losing a big share of advertising revenues to television, and even social media, radio networks need to prop up their listenership bases to remain attractive to more discriminating advertisers seeking to get the most value for their peso. In every locality, there is a constant race for the number one position, because the title is a magnet to advertisers.

Hence, it’s not suprising to hear over local radio stations for several days now anchormen firing verbal missiles at their rivals over the results of the latest A.C. Nielsen survey for Iloilo City. The obvious leader, Bombo Radyo DYFM, proudly broadcast its undisputed position in the local market with 6.34%. It was followed by Aksyon Radyo Iloilo DYOK with 2.26% with RMN 774 a distant third with 1.05%. Radyo ng Bayan and RGMA DYSI 1323 rounded up the field with 0.6% and 0.5%.

This drew angry reactions from some “losers”. Novie Guazo of RMN 774, for instance, reportedly started attacking Bombo Radyo and insisted that his station is number one. A verbal slugfest over the airlanes erupted, anchormen trying to rip each other apart as if the exercise will change the equation. It didn’t matter that such angry exchanges don’t speak well of the broadcast industry, not to mention the fact that listeners are not amused at all. The audience wants to listen to solid content, not juvenile brickbats as to who is the toughest kid on the block.

(In fairness to Aksyon Radyo, it came out with a statement accepting the results of the survey. That, I think, is the sober and right attitude. Move on. Accept the truth.)

The results of the survey are unassailable. A.C. Nielsen is the most prestigious among survey groups. Its survey findings serve as a roadmap for advertisers in picking which networks will get their advertising money. And no amount of quarreling will sway the minds of advertisers. Nor will it change the figures on the charts. These networks might as well study the outcomes and learn why they ended up where they are on the charts.

But there is something about the survey results that is very revealing. It’s the fact that the audience share for radio is getting smaller and smaller. Radio is rapidly losing its title as the primary source of information and entertainment. Television has edged out its sister broadcast medium, with social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) emerging on the horizon as potential challengers.

About 20 years ago, Bombo Radyo enjoyed an average of 15-18% of the market share, with the competition fighting over another 5-8%. Based on this recent A.C. Nielsen survey, the market share for radio has shrunk considerably. This puts more pressure on the networks because this means less and less advertising money to keep them afloat. Less income means cutbacks in promos, technology and manpower. The cycle is vicious, with the radio industry a potential victim of death by strangulation.

I’m not about to say, “for whom the bell tolls.” But the warning signals are there. Radio networks should think deep about how to thrive, not just survive, in this hostile environment. A soul-searching into content and delivery should be done, with possible integration into the social media (such as live-streaming on Facebook) to be seriously studied.

The stakeholders in the radio industry should stop quarreling. Their energies can be put to more productive purposes in finding ways to win back audiences.

Forgiving and redemption

Dr. Evangeline Johnson didn’t show a feeling of bitterness on Friday night when she sat before RMN 774 broadcaster Rhod Tecson to pour out her hurt feelings arising from the long-drawn attacks against her by the radio anchorman three years ago. “I have been taught by my God to forgive,” Dr. Johnson, who owns the Great Saviour International Hospital in Molo, Iloilo City, said. But she took the opportunity to admonish Tecson, softly, that he didn’t have the right to judge her character.

It wasn’t a scolding, but it made Tecson understand better the dynamics of his job. Individuals who are subject of radio commentary have a right to their privacy and protect their reputations. Perhaps their actions, especially when it affects the public, might be open to criticism, but definitely media persons should refrain from hitting them below-the-belt. There are limits to what a journalist can say about a public figure, and this is why we have libel laws.

I think all media persons in the country should learn from this experience if we want to raise the standards of journalism that got its biggest black eye from the bloody Augd. 23 hostage crisis. As a former editor and broadcaster, I feel heavily for the slide in the quality of our media institutions and the people in them. This is most perceptible in radio where there is almost no opportunity for editing before words are uttered over the airlanes. And the problem is compounded by the declining advertising revenue of radio, forcing networks to hire less than qualified individuals as reporters and anchors.

Iloilo has been a battleground for the major networks. That’s probably because Bombo Radyo Philippines is based here, and the competitors are forced to field anchors with razor-sharp minds. I think Iloilo has had among the best anchors in the country. Not so long ago, the late Rino Arcones was even featured in The New York Times and Asiaweek magazine. Herman Basbano is now national president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters ng Pilipinas. The present crop of anchors — John Paul Tia, Rhod Tecson, Ronel Sorbito, Don Dolido, Henry Lumawag, Novie Guazo, Jonathan Gellangarin and Joel Tormon among others — are intelligent and talented. Unfortunately, the environment in which they are working do not encourage them to elevate their standards. That’s because they don’t get good support from reporters and researchers.

This environment is perhaps to blame for the tendency of most anchors to just blast away on issues without careful study and regard for the reputations of individuals who happen to be on the firing line. The standard is no longer how well the anchors elicit competiting ideas on issues and the basic journalism tenet of getting all sides. Commentaries are often one-sided and unfair. As a result, reputations get trampled upon, just as what Dr. Johnson experienced. And very often, commentaries deteriorate into name-calling and personal insults.

The civil confrontation between Rhod Tecson and Dr. Johnson can be a start for local media to look deep within themselves and find out what can be done to change the parameters for the industry. Broadcasters must come to realize this kind of journalism doesn’t contribute to making society better. It doesn’t help develop a thinking audience, where listeners are able to hear clashing opinions and form their own judgments. This would be an abdication of the media’s role as a crystalizer of public opinion. And in the ranks of broadcasters, network executives must strictly screen those who have access to broadcast airtime. Pardon me for being blunt, but more than half our radio reporters are an embarrassment to the industry. We have to professionalize the radio industry.

Media, radio in particular, wields tremendous power. But as Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibillity.” In forgiving between Rhod Tecson and Dr. Johnson, we hope to see the redemption of the media, especially after the Aug. 23 hostage crisis where its name was also dragged into the messy affair.