Breaking news: As a minority stockholder of San Miguel Corporation (just a few shares), I want to know whether the corporation through its board has formally decided to support the candidacy for president of Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares. I ask this because Ms. Poe has now publicly revealed that she is getting free use of SMC aircraft. If this is corporate policy, does the corporation also provide cash support for the senator and deploy SMC employees to assist in her campaign.
This is a serious issue because SMC could invite retaliation if someone other then Ms. Poe wins in the May elections. Conversely, will SMC be a favored crony if she wins?
The persistent rumors that it is SMC president Ramon S. Ang, not San Miguel corporation, who is bankrolling the Poe campaign and massive media buys, need to be clarified. I hope San Miguel is maintaining a strict distinction between its president and the corporation. Their interests, political or otherwise, are not identical.
Commercialism in broadcast
I don’t use much the adjective “offputting,” which means unsettling, or provoking aversion and repugnance, because it’s a bit of a tongue twister and recondite.
(Many dictionaries do not list the word. Collins Dictionary and the Random House dictionary do. The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the first use of the word to 1894.)
Now I find myself in a situation where I must employ the word because it is the most fitting and deserved.
Offputting best describes the decision of the GMA Network and the Comelec to load so many political commercials on the broadcast of last Sunday’s presidential debate in Cagayan de Oro City.
My son thought it was offensive that while the five presidential candidates struggled to outwit and outshine each other during the debate, GMA kept running the campaign commercials of some of the candidates during the breaks. He asked, isn‘t there a law against this?
The best response that I could think of was that the agency that should regulate these matters, the Commission on Elections, is one of the organizers of the debate. It probably even enjoys a significant share of the ad revenues – legally or under the table
But my son has a point, a good one. Here we were trying to see what each candidate had to offer and what each had to show as a debater, and we were being interrupted by advertisements of some candidates in scripted situations and poses.
Since suffrage is one of the basic rites of democratic governance, this is somewhat equivalent to being interrupted by salacious commercials while hearing Mass.
I did not count who advertised the most in the broadcast, but my son tells me that he saw Grace Poe interrupt at least twice.
Clearly the advertised candidates were taking advantage of the huge captive audience of the debate. They wanted to influence the viewers’ opinion of them and evaluation of their debate performance.
Crossing an ethical line
I believe an ethical line was crossed here. On the ruling of the Commission on Elections, the three planned presidential debates have been restricted to the staging and coverage by favored media organizations.
One media organization – Rappler — was so incensed by the Comelec’s restrictions, it has gone to the Supreme Court.
Ahead of the first presidential debate, Rappler filed suit against Comelec chairman Andres Bautista for granting broadcast rights to the debates only to the nation’s biggest television networks and their chosen partners.
It asked the high court to intervene to enable millions of Filipinos to watch the debates on their phones, tablets, and computers.
While it-is non-traditional media, being an online media organization, Rappler has a good and timely case to make. Online media organizations deserve equal treatment, because it is the Internet that is revolutionizing contemporary mass communications and bankrupting a lot of traditional media organizations in the process.
I do not know whether the Rappler suit will prosper, but the preferential treatment of big TV networks in this controversy has become at the very least questionable and misplaced.
A handicap in the public conversation
What was in stark display during the recent debate broadcast was unrestrained commercialism bordering on indecency.
It is generally conceded now by the public that during election time, broadcast networks can seize the day to make money from political advertising. Other media can only envy them for their advantage.
The theory behind media coverage of political campaigns is to improve public understanding of the political exercise, the issues and the candidates.
The political commercials are a different thing. Being tools for selling, they do not enlighten, they distract. They handicap the public conversation in favor of advertised candidates, and tilt it toward the money.
I have already written my assessment of the debate as public affairs communications (“High-tech, polite, dull and superficial,” Times, Febuary 23, 2016). My verdict is that last Sunday’s spectacle was disappointing for the lack of performance by the candidates and the mediocre questioning.
Now, in this review of the commercial side of the broadcast, I must regretfully report that GMA was too clever for its own good. It turned the debate into the equivalent of a Pacquiao title fight. It seemed as though the network was bent on incarnating Gordon Gekko’s philosophy in the movie Wall Street that “Greed is good.”
The word “offputting,” for all that it connotes of aversion and repugnance, may be too mild a word to describe what GMA-7 inflicted on the public last Sunday.
It was not the candidates who underperformed in the debate. It was the GMA Network and the Comelec who flunked the test.