An ABS-CBN affair

November 29, 2006. Some of my collegemates and I attended the 2nd Pinoy [Youth] Media Congress at Miriam College the whole days yesterday and last Monday.

It was really much more of an ABS-CBN propaganda event, really. I don’t mind. It gave us an insight into how things work in ABS-CBN, with all the icing of course. Almost the entire roster of ABS-CBN executives, from the Lopez siblings who own ABS-CBN, to Maria Ressa, head of news & current affairs, to all the heads of the different subsidiaries that make up the biggest media company in the country were there. It was a rare opportunity to hear them speak and promote their organization to representatives from almost all the mass communication schools in the country, and for us to have the opportunity to ask them questions ourselves.

I was surprised to realize how many hundreds of colleges and universities are teaching Mass Communication. There were almost a thousand student and faculty representatives at the Congress. With just a handful of media companies, how the hell can all of us be absorbed in the industry. With such a competitive environment, I can understand why some people can get easily frustrated with the prevailing trend. The stereotype of Mass Comm students is that of one who wants to be a newscaster. Which can make me cringe, really. Hindi naman hayok sa camera ang mga nag-aaral ng say, Journalism or Film or Communication Research. That’s not even the path I want to take (as to what my plans are, I’ll share some other time).

Everyone disliked us there, by the way. They were so averse at UP students. One time, one student from UE came up and asked the human resource panel, (it went something like), “Why do you discriminate applicants based on the school he went to? Bakit palaging taga-UP?! ‘Pag hindi taga-UP, mababa kagad ang chance?!” Then everybody roared in applause. As in, with the “whooo!!” and “yea!!” Sheesh. Then another student came up and said “Totoo bang mas matimbang ang [educational] background kaysa sa sipag at tiyaga?” What the hell. Everybody applauded again, like it was some anti-UP rally. Well, it’s probably really frustrating (for some) that majority of the media personalities you see on TV come from UP. But I’m sure they are all there based on individual merit and hard work, not based on school. It just so happened that they came from UP. The human resource person rebutted that everyone goes through the same application process anyway! If you don’t make the cut, it’s you, not the name of your school or others’. And these are people in front of the camera. I’m sure thousands of ABS-CBN’s five thousand employees aren’t from UP.

It might have not helped everyone’s animosity against us that our professor was very straightforward with his “fierce” questions directed at Gabby Lopez and Karen Davila. That was guts, man. Facing up to ABS-CBN executives, with labor issues and other issues with their programming. They were all valid points by the way. But when Karen Davila, who’s a UP alumna too by the way, calmly yet sarcastically answered back, everyone started applauding like it was some cockfight.

I know its chic and fashionable to criticize media with all their failures. But I have high regard for people like Maria Ressa, Luchi Cruz Valdez and Charie Villa. I’d personally cut them some slack for what they do. Different speakers repeated some things over the two-day Congress, “We’re as frustrated as you! How we wish we could also give you Probe at primetime. But you won’t watch it, what can we do?!” “It’s useless preaching to an empty church.” “If you don’t like the program, turn it off and write to us.” “If it’s such a bad program, why does it rate high?” “We are not part of 80% of Filipinos who live in poverty. What you, or we, don’t like, they do.” Basically, whenever they are criticized, they turn the table upside down and ask audiences the same question. “If you hate the program, why were you watching it?” kind of thing. Which I understand. We’re all slaves to market forces. It’s a delicate balance between providing audiences what they want and what they need. Give them what they need, like educational programs and documentaries, but they won’t want or watch it. Give them slapstick entertainment, but it’s not what they “need”. A balance has to be set. Our professor said this though, “We have abused the audience-reason too much to justify bad programming.”

I hope the next Pinoy Media Congress could be sponsored by GMA.

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