Looking back at how ABS-CBN had influenced Philippine society, one can argue that the whole franchise was a failure. Supporters of the failed network hinge the whole rationale of its existence on “media freedom”. But, while there is clear merit in media freedom, this freedom does not seem to have been applied wisely in the Philippines. While that freedom, in principle, will have ideally encouraged diversity in culture, thinking, and production, media production in the Philippines has, instead, gravitated into today’s dominant monoculture of shallow cinema, trashy television, unoriginal music, and offensive Web content. Suffice to say, unleashing “media freedom” in the Philippines was the equivalent of granting a seven-year-old child unlimited access to the Internet.
Indeed, the entire business model of ABS-CBN can be said to have exploited Filipinos’ freedom to be stupid. The logic of ABS-CBN shareholders, its executive management team, and its fandom-turned-“activists” is almost criminal. If Filipinos are willing to pay good money for crap, that’s just the free market in all its wondrous wisdom at work, is the thinking they apply to running their business. ABS-CBN get their million-peso blockbuster hit and Filipinos get their Pinoy Big Brother fix. Everybody’s happy. The results can be seen today. Even the arguments that are applied to defend its lost “cause” are stupid.
Think of what it would be like if such as a dishonest business as ABS-CBN continue to be allowed to pollute the country’s airwaves and cinemas. Filipinos will keep forking out hard-earned cash to see increasingly mediocre products which big media conglomerates will happily churn out in mind-numbingly vast quantities at enormous profit. Bad content, sustaining bad taste which, in turn fuels more demand for bad content. It would be a doomed society.
Now that ABS-CBN is toast, the opportunities to fill the void it leaves are endless. This is a chance to start from scratch and build a media company that truly serves the Filipino people. For that, we can turn to the experience of the United Kingdom for some inspiration.
Consider the original public service charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC was created by Royal Charter as the state broadcasting monopoly in 1927 under the direction of the 12 members of the BBC Trust. These members are each appointed by the British monarch and while they enjoy complete independence in the running of the BBC, its primary purpose, summarised by John Reith, its first Managing Director, is to “educate, inform, entertain”, a key part of its mission statement to this day.
The BBC remained a television broadcasting monopoly in the United Kingdom from 1927 to 1954 and its monopoly on radio was broken up only as recently as 1972. But even after broadcasting in the UK was opened to competition, the BBC remains the dominant media organisation there and its values have remained largely consistent to its original charter. Public service remains its primary function and today is governed along the lines of the following set of principles:
– Sustaining citizenship and civil society;
– Promoting education and learning;
– Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;
– Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; and,
– Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK.
Furthermore, its current version of the charter demands that the BBC “must display at least one of the following characteristics in all content: high quality, originality, innovation, to be challenging and to be engaging” and that it must “demonstrate that it provides public value in all of its major activities.”
In considering the BBC experience, perhaps there is value in reconsidering the approach to mass communication in the Philippines given the clearly evident immaturity of its society and the formidable challenges the country faces in uplifiting the intellectual faculties of its people.
Broadcast media and cinema continue to be key channels into the minds of Filipinos and a major shaper of culture. To delegate this entire space to the private sector — particularly big corporations driven primarily by profit and by the dishonest agendas of their top shareholders’ golf buddies and former schoolmates is practically criminal. Now that ABS-CBN’s formidable footprint is out of the picture and the landscape ripe for the farming of more intelligent and original work, the Philippines’ prospects of progressing into a truly modern and smarter society look promising.
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