Ratings & CSR in Media: Irreconcilable?

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on August 5, 2011

Philippine media is not family-friendly, according to Fenny Delos Angeles-Bautista, the executive director of the Philippine Children’s Television Foundation and executive producer of the popular Batibot television show on TV5. The reason it is so unfriendly, said clinical psychologist Lourdes Carandang, is that media violate core Philippine values. “The most violated core value is respect for the person’s dignity.”

Angeles-Bautista and Carandang were panelists in a session entitled “Ratings and CSR in Media: Irreconcilable Differences?” at last week’s CSR Expo 2011 organized by the League of Corporate Foundations. The theme of this year’s expo was “Taking CSR to New Heights,” and the session was designed to address the responsibility of media in reporting accurate and timely news and programming and how it influences the mindsets and morals of its audience.

Other speakers included Fr. Carmelo Caluag II and his brother Renato Caluag. Caluag II is the integrated public services head and chaplain at ABS-CBN and his sibling is general network manager at the National Broadcasting Network. The chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares rounded out the panel.

“In TV shows, violence and lying have become normal,” Carandang lamented. “Verbal insults presented as funny, putdowns, humiliations, making fun of appearances, and disabilities are common.” As a result, she believes that “disrespect is slowly becoming a way of life.”

Who is responsible? “Advertisers determine what’s on and stays on television,” Angeles-Bautista told the more than 500 delegates present. But advertisers will only pay for what people watch, according to Carandang. “Ratings always rule.” The more people who watch television, the more will buy advertisers’ products. Because most viewers in the Philippines belong to the impoverished D and E socio-economic classes, consumer products sold in cheap sachets dominate commercial time.

Media practitioners and television producers will argue that they are just giving viewers what they want, the same way Roman emperors perhaps justified the slaughter of gladiators and Christians in public fights produced for their entertainment value in grand coliseums for five centuries. Back then, it was the D and E classes providing the entertainment, while their more economically powerful fellow citizens cheered them on.

Rather than taking the lives of the poor, media today is undermining their value systems, and those of their children. Citing a study of the varying impact of media on viewers, Carandang said, “for the ABC class, they view it as entertainment. But for the DE class, they view it as a source of knowledge, an education.” For these impressionable individuals, what they see on and in media is life, a life they aspire to.

“Sampid ka lang (despised outsider)—a five-year-old stamps her feet. She may not know the word ‘sampid,’” Carandang explained. “But she catches the emotion, absorbs the total image, and uses the word correctly to express anger and insult. The look in the eye, the face, the body language, such is the power of images.” And such is the power of media. “Children absorb values and images uncritically, totally, effortlessly, unconsciously, and subliminally.”

And, Carandang warned, these lessons acquired from media “stay in their unconscious.” She believes that while media often promotes its corporate social responsibility (CSR) during times of crisis with aid to victims, that there is a much larger group of victims they ignore. These are the children and other viewers who aren’t being entertained by dumbed-down media, they are being educated by it.

If media is serious about CSR Carandang says it can do four things. First, media should understand and accept the power it wields, and be “mindful, not mindless” of it. Armed with that understanding media can contemplate the kind of values it wants to impart. “Disrespect for the individual? Or respect? Honesty? Love of country and patriotic fervor?” She believes media has the power to do the right thing.

Television producers and executives will roll their eyes at that suggestion. They have businesses to run after all, and can’t and shouldn’t be responsible for feeding drivel and insults to the masses if that’s what they want and what advertisers pay for. But Carandang believes that it is possible to “be conscious, mindful, and deliberate” in producing content for news and programming alike and still make money.

It just takes “a leader who will start to change the rules to favor the interest and well-being of children” and other individuals who internalize what they see and read in media. Imagining such a leader and the conditions under which he or she might emerge is tough. Imagining advertisers selling shampoo, whitening agents, and skin cleansers in a coliseum between bloody bouts is much easier.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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