POSTSCRIPT / February 12, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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We pay dearly for calling attention to our ugly side

PINOY PLAINT: This email, written Oct. 26, 2004, by Bess of Sta. Clara, Calif., has been circulating mostly in the US. I boiled it down to fit our limited space.

Hello there… I am a Filipino living in the Bay Area in California . We have a big Filipino community here so we get to watch Filipino TV shows daily. Those who have TFC (The Filipino Channel) can watch 24 hours a day, but those who, like me, don’t subscribe to TFC can only watch Philippines Tonight on Channel 69 from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and TV Patrol on Channel 8 from 6 to 7 p.m.

Like many others, I am deeply disturbed by their news handling. Everyday the TV networks bombard their audience with negative news from the Philippines. They should realize that Filipinos are not the only ones watching in the States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The networks have the duty to report the news to us. But why must they always focus on the negative? Why must they keep showing old footages of Abu Sayyaf rebels raising their guns, soldiers fighting Muslim rebels and NPA guerrillas, old films of bombings, coup attempts, military tanks, demonstrations, assassinations and kidnappings while reporting the news? Is that trash really necessary? If they don’t have any new pictures to show, they should not show any.

Imagine this scenario: You are an American who just came home from work. To relax, you watch TV. You flip the channels from Channel 2, to 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and what do you see? Philippine soldiers fighting rebels or another bombing in Manila! We Filipinos watching Filipino news programs daily know that those are old film clips, but an American who is just scanning would think that there’s another bombing going on!

Every country has its own problems, but they are talked about mainly among the native population. We Filipinos speak English, we report the news in English — PLUS we show those ugly images on TV. Even if you cannot understand English (TFC is also aired in Europe, the Middle East and Asia) when you see those images on your screen, you would think there’s another bombing in Manila. TV Patrol reports the news complete with sound effects like in an action movie, so one would think and feel that the Philippines is on the brink of war!

Here in the Bay Area, we have a TV station called International Channel on Channel 69. I watch news programs from such countries as Korea, Greece, Italy, Iran, Germany, France and Russia for comparison. I don’t understand what they are saying and I don’t get the feeling that something gruesome just happened in those countries. India has the same rebellion problem like ours and it is duly reported on TV — but they don’t show their military battling their rebels. The anchorman would just read the news.

Our tourism department spends millions to promote our country abroad. I have seen some of its expensive TV commercials. And here are Filipino news programs neutralizing that costly promo effort 24 hours a day for free! For instance, they keep showing old footages on the slums. Filipinos know how the slums look, so why parade them on TV? The shots project to the whole world the Philippines as one big waste dump, which is not true!

Ask anyone abroad his impression of the Philippines and he would likely say it’s teeming with shantytowns and go-go bars. Show him pictures of our modern skyscrapers, shopping malls or beach resorts and he would likely say those shots were taken in Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand.

How can we convince foreigners that the Philippines is a safe and beautiful place if all they see and hear on TV is its ugly, violent side? Colombia and Mexico have more kidnappings than the Philippines and yet they have more tourist arrivals. Search the Internet for Mexican kidnappings and you learn that Mexico has the second highest number of kidnappings in the world — but tourists still flock there. American tourists have been kidnapped and killed there, but Americans don’t know this because it does not jump out of their TV screens. Indonesia has more corruption than us, aside from its share of bombing incidents, yet it boasts of more tourist arrivals.

I found this website which listed USA as having the highest crime rate in the world. The Philippines is not even on the list of 60 countries. Living in the States is more dangerous because of the serial killers roaming around, snipers, campus shootings, gang wars, perverts, serial rapists and mental patients loose in the streets. But we feel safe here because the US media do not constantly scare us with lurid reports of the violence in our midst.

One time TV Patrol showed a newspaper headline “RP 11TH MOST CORRUPT COUNTRY.” All Filipinos know about our corrupt officials, so why the need to show it to them again on TV? That only made the whole world think that all Filipino officials are corrupt. The 2004 Corruption Perception Index report wasn’t even shown or discussed on TV or in the newspapers here, and then this Filipino news program went to town with it. India scored just a little better than us, but you don’t see India announcing that on TV.

Search the Internet for corruption in India and you will see that they have the same corruption problem like ours, and yet they get almost all the outsourcing jobs from here. Filipinos are just as talented and creative, maybe even more so. American companies know this. Our literacy rate is 95 percent compared to India’s 65 percent. We have the cultural advantage because of our long historical ties with the US. We have the edge over China, Thailand, Malaysia and Viet Nam because we speak English. We are the third largest English-speaking country in the world. We even have the religious connection with the US and Europe, because we are Christians like them.

So what is keeping the Philippines from being recognized as a top outsourcing destination? According to Computerworld and Offshoring Digest, “the bad media image” of the Philippines is the single biggest challenge the local software developers have to overcome.

I’m not saying that Philippine media should stop reporting the bad news. Philippine newspapers can print all the mudslinging and the graphic pictures of victims of violence they want. I just would insist that Philippine television be more responsible, because it reaches the farthest ends of the earth. TV Patrol has been voted the best in Philippine news reporting. I can only imagine how much worse the other news programs are. Philippines Tonight and ANC Business News, which cater to the more sophisticated Filipino, are also guilty of unnecessarily showing negative images on TV.

Why can’t the networks focus on the good side of the Filipino? Why would they bother to show even petty crimes like cell phone snatching. Italy has more pickpockets and tourists going there are aware of it. You don’t see Italy broadcasting that on TV. If the Philippine news programs have nothing more to report, why don’t they just use the time to feature the many beautiful places in the Philippines and its charming people, and help the government save millions of pesos. Shows like Good Morning America and NBC Today often feature tourist spots in the US or ordinary Americans who have excelled in their jobs. It doesn’t hurt their ratings.

The networks should create good role models for Filipino youths, certainly not by focusing on crooked politicians and criminals. They can feature our software engineers or people working in call centers, people in science, the arts and medical fields. Some doctors pledged never to leave the Philippines and practice abroad. We want to know more about them. They can feature our nurses still serving back home. They can feature the best teachers and professionals we have. I think these people who have chosen to stay are the real heroes.

There must be a lot of good news from and about the Philippines, but we hardly hear about it. Certainly not on TV programs beamed to us here and to the rest of the world. Sometimes we do stumble on some good news, buried in the inside pages of some newspapers. But how many Filipinos can afford to buy a newspaper these days? It seems that in the Philippines, “all bad news is good news” for the commercial media obsessed with making money.

Give a child all the freedom he wants and he grows up wild, delinquent and irresponsible. Just as our parents had the power and the right to discipline us when we were children, I think that the Filipino people also should exercise their power and right to discipline Philippine media.

We Filipinos often say “huwag kang maingay, nakakahiya sa kapitbahay.” Well, certainly not this time. We let Philippine television shout and wave our dirtiest tattered laundry for all the neighbors to see — and we are not doing anything about it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 12, 2006)

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