“They [foreign investors] would invest here not to develop Philippine media or to enlighten Filipinos but to gain profits.” – Dean Luis Teodoro
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Would foreign media ownership lead to a more professional and ethical Philippine press and a more informed citizenry?
Luis Teodoro, deputy executive director of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), does not think so.
In a forum “Charter Change: implications on farmers, SMEs and mass media” organized by independent think tank Ibon Foundation, April 8, Teodoro said removing restrictions on foreign media ownership would entice the biggest media conglomerates in the planet to operate in the country. This, he said, could result in the “proliferation of trivia and entertainment and mindless reporting.”
“They would invest here not to develop Philippine media or to enlighten Filipinos but to gain profits,” Teodoro, also former dean of the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines, said.
Teodoro deemed as illusory the perception of some senior media practitioners that foreign media ownership could lead to heightened compliance with professional and ethical standards, quality of output or improved autonomy of the Philippine press.
Teodoro said the seven biggest media conglomerates, which include the Viacom, AOL-Time Warner, Disney, News Corp, CBS, Sony and GE, are commercial enterprises that would have greater emphasis on entertainment and trivia.
He cited the experience of Australia, saying that foreign media ownership in the said country did not lead to superior journalism but to its opposite – trivia and PR [press release]-dominated.
Teodoro said the entry of foreign investors in the media would aggravate the already problematic state of Philippine media. He said many media practitioners do not comply with professional and ethical standards, are prone to corruption and have low level of skills, among others.
Teodoro said the dominant media often fails to provide context in their stories. He cited a 2000 CMFR study, which revealed that of the 6,000 articles on the Mindanao conflict, only 27 stories provided background. He said most of the reports dealt on the casualties and not on the reasons behind the conflict.
He said competition with foreign-owned media would further lower the standards of the Philippine press and would give priority to trivia and entertainment. Teodoro cited as examples the coverage on Kris Aquino’s love life and the incident involving Vhong Navarro. He said the assumption of what the public wants is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The former dean of the UP-CMC cited a research by UP students on the readers of tabloid newspapers. “It revealed that readers are not satisfied with the violence and scantily-clad women in tabloid newspapers. They want information that are relevant to people’s lives,” Teodoro said.
Vehicles of culture
Teodoro pointed out the agenda-setting role of media and the media as vehicles of culture.
“Culture has a direct impact on politics in that it introduces and reinforces certain values and helps establish the norms of political discourse and decision-making in society,” Teodoro said, quoting from his previous column at Business World. “That totality we refer to as culture refers not only to a way of doing things; it also refers to a way of looking at things.”
Teodoro explained that journalists frame their stories in a way they want their readers to respond. “The media can shape people’s responses to issues,” he said.
What the Filipino people need, Teodoro said, is a Philippine press that promotes consciousness among its citizens. “We need a well-informed citizenry that can make the right decisions.”
He said it is necessary to intensify the media practitioners’ understanding of ethical and professional standards.