Wednesday ∗ 23 Feb 2005

Killing Credibility on TV

For the longest time we have complained about media credibility, or the lack of it, with TV taking most of the blame – high profile, profitable, and in-our-faces as it is. A decade ago, it was about Mel Tiangco and Jay Sonza selling laundry soap while being ABS-CBN 2 news and current affairs show hosts; now, it isn’t as simple as just endorsing a product. Don’t get me wrong, doing an advertisement still puts the credibility of any news personality into question; but since news personalities shifted to careers in politics, and since so many of them have shown their partisan colors in various ways, and then have had the gall to return to television and speak as if we didn’t hear them, i.e., Dong Puno (lives!), even more has been going on than just having Mareng Winnie Monsod and her ilk sell laundry detergent.

There has been, for example, the exodus of news and current affairs personalities between the two giant networks in this country – an act that has become so normal, it’s gone unquestioned. But certain things are put to the fore when someone who spews the news and speaks of nation decides to move employers without a reason as big as that of Mel’s and Jay’s, where a case was brought before the courts. There’s the fact that in this country, the job of a news and current affairs personality isn’t really about doing good for the country as they like to remind us everyday, but about greener pastures and better opportunities for individual gains. We are also made to face the fact that this is all about the money, and that at this point, our news and current affairs people are no different from artistas whose services may be acquired by the highest bidder. All these overlook the fact of loyalty, and really, truly standing for the organization one works and speaks for. When a news personality can switch from calling herself a ka-puso to a ka-pamilya with the blink of an eye, then that news personality also loses all credibility, no ifs and buts about it. And let’s not even go in the direction of the argument that goes: “why are you picking on us? we’re no different from doctors or lawyers who switch hospitals or law firms!” Because that is just untrue. Media, particularly news and current affairs personalities who are in our faces everyday, are different. They mouth credibility and authority on issues. They carry with their titles a huge responsibility to a public that listens to them as if they speak the truth of the times.

Of course given the way things are, and because no one complains, things were meant to get worse. Welcome, lifestyle TV in local broadcasting!

Now, lifestyle isn’t bad per se. When ABS-CBN 2 came out with F, it was funky, fun and Pinay, and wasn’t wont to sell every fad, spa, or clothes store (as it does now). With it came pretty girls Daphne, Cher, and Angel, among whom only the latter was familiar as a model and actress; and all of whom found a niche in the fashion, style, nightlife segment of ABS-CBN’s news and current affairs division. And then they started having Cher do the Channel 23 news, and it was a sign of things to come. Having seen her partying, pigging out, dressing up, and talking about the clothes and make-up she likes on F – it was just difficult to believe her as a news anchor. I mean, there she was, looking credible, supposedly dishing out the news with objectivity, as scenes of her talking about her favorite color lipstick and how much it is, or the image of her in a tube top eating out and partying, kept replaying in my head. It was a wrong move all around, both for the news program and F (nomatter that she got that gig in the States). But as wrong moves go, this was the tip of the iceberg.

Recently, news and current affairs personalities have gone on to be “lifestyled” – and one only needs to think Korina Sanchez with Kris Aquino on Morning Girls to realize that it’s the worst move ever. Of course, I doubt it will ever be thought of by ABS-CBN 2 as such, but it must be seen for what it is beyond being a money-making venture: it destroyed Korina Sanchez’s credibility as a news and current affairs personality. She didn’t stand to gain anything by talking about her lipstick color, her hair, her clothes, and even her lovelife on nationwide television. If ABS-CBN thought Korina’s credibility would lend credence to a morning lifestyle cum talkshow, then it thought wrong, because it was Kris’ strong showbiz personality that actually killed Korina’s and the show’s credibility. In the end it was just some other talkshow that was wont to be irrelevant instead of relevant, credulous instead of credible, selling everything from the newest loveteams to the hottest spa or cosmetic procedures. If anyone stood to gain anything from Morning Girls, it was Mar Roxas – singing to Korina, and holding her hand too often in our mornings – and he did get that senate seat.

Let’s give Korina this though: she always showed a hint of discomfort, even shame, when conversations were steered towards make-up, clothes, and her personal life. That’s so much more than can be said of news and current affairs personalities who have actually decided that there is virtue in sharing their lives and styles beyond the news and their current affairs shows. Long ago, lines were clearly drawn between our artistas who stand to gain from putting up their lives for criticism, and news and current affairs personalities whose personal lives were irrelevant to their public persona. Now, none of that is clear anymore, as what we have are TV personalities, all of whom unthinkingly share too much of their personal lives with the public, making all of them mere feed for criticism, showbiz chismis, and sponsors. How else does one explain having news people being linked to boldstars and headlining showbiz talkshows? Why else do we have our current affairs hosts talking about botox injections, designer outfits, and Vicky Belo? And then our news people wonder why they’ve ceased to be credible, and are being disrespected.

Lessons may be learned from the likes of ABS-CBN 2 Correspondents Jim Libiran and Abner Mercado and I-witness reporters Jay Taruc and Maki Pulido whose lives we know nothing of but whose reports we look forward to; even Patrick Paez, “lifestyled” by marriage to F girl Daphne, has kept his private life to himself. Mike Enriquez and Mel Tiangco, do it just as well, hi-profile as they are (though the latter has fallen prey to showbiz magazine Yes! which featured her not-so-humble abode); and even young-ish Vicky Morales and Rhea Santos have kept their private lives, well, private – no televised lavish weddings in sight.

The truth is, news and current affairs personalities don’t stand to gain anything by showing us their mansions and pets, by talking to us about their hair and make-up rituals and favorite designer clothes and jewelry, botox and cosmetic procedures, by appearing (being photographed) in high-profile, ultra-expensive parties rubbing elbows with the elite of this country. In fact, we don’t need to know how our news people stay goodlooking, it’s enough that they don’t look terrible or obese (calling on Jessica Soho!). We don’t need to know how much they earn because we can just imagine. We don’t need information on their private lives because if anything, this ruins everything for us, particularly when we realize how rich they’ve become and what exactly they spend their money on while they spew concern, and purportedly speak, for the less fortunate in this country every chance they get.

Bottom line is, we only really want to have people who will ask the right questions and deliver the right news about the issues that are important to us as a nation. But then even that has become tricky. And the culprit is but one word: current.

Since “news and public affairs” became “news and current affairs” post-EDSA, what needs to be talked about has become obscured by what will bring in the ratings and therefore the cash, because it is the issue of the day. And so Dong Puno Live will as quickly talk about FHM and have boldstar Asia Agcaoili as guest, as Mareng Winnie and Pareng Oca Orbos will interview the boldie group D’Bodies over on Debate about their publicity stunt of dancing practically naked on the streets of Manila. And so time and again, we are forced to watch news and current affairs personalities asking inane questions of equally inane guests on irrelevant but “current” topics that range from cosmetic surgeries to the newest blind item, the latest fad diet to the “in” hang-out places, the most famous loveteams to Korean telenovela stars; they will even talk to Eddie Gil and feature him every chance they get. This, as the issues of debt and taxes, globalization and dead industries haunt us everyday. At this point, our news and current affairs shows practically all seem like Studio 23’s Wazzup Wazzup! And that just might be offensive to the latter.

Of course sometimes decisions are actually made about what is important and relevant – say the war in Mindanao, the economy, globalization, even Hacienda Luisita. But these discussions only go as far as asking who? what? when? where? instead of the more important why? what can we do? and what needs to be done? The most shallow of questions are asked, and the most obvious and safe conclusions are arrived at, and in ungrammatical English and Tagalog at that.

Now, that’s discussion for another essay altogether.

Posted in: kapitalista, komentaryo, media, TV

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