, NOVEMBER 27, 2006 (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - Last week we witnessed the very successful staging of the 1st Student Advertising Congress, mounted by a concerned band of advertising practitioners and educators. Over 1,000 marketing communications students and teachers trooped to Aliw Theater and were treated to a state-of-the-art exposure on various topics that will surely have bearing on their future practice. Today and tomorrow, practically the same group of students and teachers will be exposed to yet another related field – media understanding and appreciation, as the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE) and ABS-CBN team up to provide a second serving of the Pinoy Media Congress. Talk about how the industry is preparing the new breed of media movers and shakers.

The two-day event to be attended by some 900 communication students and professors will be staged at the Marian Auditorium of Miriam College. It will serve as a forum for idea exchange to explore and formulate programs beneficial to communication educators, professionals and students. The two groups will collaborate on the implementation of an effective program, which ultimately can contribute to the concerted effort in nation-building. Senior executives from ABS-CBN and its affiliate companies will handle the multidisciplinary modules.

The Intrusive Power Of Media

Media has not only been a channel for the mass dissemination of information and delivery of entertainment fare but also, all too often, it mirrors the values and the sensibilities of the audience they seek. The pervasive and visual nature of television, for example, and the immediacy which technology has endowed it has earned it a place in most living rooms where a TV signal is available.

TV not only reports on events – it shapes them. Manny Pacquiao’s killer-of-a-fight-preparation was beamed to every household in the country and Filipino abroad who has access to The Filipino Channel. And of course, millions watched the Pacquiao-Morales boxing event in Las Vegas, USA, which made every Pinoy proud of a kababayan who displayed firepower and unflappable determination to win.

TV showed us the havoc typhoon Milenyo brought, and the great outpouring of support for the victims of its anger. People have been mobilized because of extensive TV coverage. The images of the devastation and despair even prompted a debate on the positive and negative effects of outdoor advertising. A fallen billboard on EDSA caused the death of a driver during the height of Milenyo’s ire, bolstering detailed, and sometimes heated discussion of the advertising medium’s usefulness.

The influence of such an effective medium has not been lost on marketers and politicians alike. Both take full advantage of the power of the visual medium: the former to project the different advantages of their brands and sell more of their products, and the latter to see more of themselves, and hopefully get elected or re-elected. In effect, the world now plays to the television camera, whether to enact a real-life drama, or play out a scripted one. TV is a hot medium, and it rules in urban and suburban communities where both the sophisticated and educated and the masses converge.

Capitalism has shaped the TV industry (as well as all of the media) into a revenue-dependent business. When the viewers do not like what a TV network has to offer, it votes with its pockets: fewer viewers will watch and consequently will not be enticed to purchase the products being advertised. This behavior is documented in a not-so-modern innovation called surveying. Competing networks identify which of their programs get a larger share of the audience, and thereby, can be sold to advertisers for a premium. Conversely, those programs that get poor ratings will not be attractive to advertisers, and eventually get axed.

Reporting The Truth

TV networks are given the task of reporting the truth without bias or prejudice. Seasoned TV journalist and head of ABS-CBN’s News and Current Affairs Maria Ressa believes that every TV reporter must be extra careful about how each story is framed. "It is an undeniable reality that the media, particularly TV, often helps analyze the news for the viewers in the way the story is told. One needs to tell the audience the perspective one is coming from at all times," she adds.

Effective TV reporting helps the viewers to look at the bigger picture, assist them to develop an opinion or a stand, and in the long haul help in nation-building. Media is a private business with responsibility to the nation, and the Pinoy Media Congress hopes to elucidate critical issues such as its role in shaping the nation, rules that govern news media, how balanced reporting can be maintained, and a universal code of ethics in news reporting among others.

Escaping To Fantasy Land

"TV as an entertainment medium brings larger-than-life people to public view. It provides its audiences with role models and heroes, which is what most Pinoys crave," ABS CBN Channel 2 head Charo Santos-Concio opines.

Entertainment offerings are a salve for tired and stressed-out nerves at the end of a taxing day. That’s why there is a proliferation of fantasy shows polished with a huge dollop of special effects, a technology-intensive post-production process that would have been cost-prohibitive less than a decade ago.

Sociologists will be quick to point out that this trend may also indicate a deep-seated need by many Pinoys for a moment or an opportunity to get away from the humdrum of everyday life. Fantasy stories, whether enacted on stage, in a movie, or on a TV program, are escapist in essence, allowing the viewer to lose himself in a virtual world where real-life problems give way to fantastic vistas of beautiful people and superhuman qualities.

Ten years or more from now, when social anthropologists will study the cultural and behavioral patterns of struggling democratic countries such as the Philippines, they shall notice a pattern of popular preoccupation with escapist themes, much like the rise of comic book superheroes in the USA right after the great depression: Captain America and Superman among others. Wait for the coming age of Super Inggo, or the rise of another bunch of brave men and women, or the poor Pinoy’s champions who will come forward to take all of us out of harm’s way.

"Entertainment media is a reflection of the culture of the audience they seek to serve. They must inspire, entertain, criticize, challenge and amuse. They have a critical role in defining the makeup of citizenship in modern society," Santos-Concio explains.

Several questions remain, though: What is the main thrust of the entertainment media today? Should it be self-regulated? Do the rating/audience share results affect the quality of services media provide? How does competition in media affect the quality of services media provide?

Media is indeed an area worthy of monitoring and critique. The general public together with academe or even ordinary citizens should continue to learn more about how they affect our society and help develop programming, whether news or entertainment, or regulate where appropriate. The Filipino readers, listeners and viewers should continue to move towards a critical appreciation of media. Just being a couch potato, a passive listener or a token reader and simply bemoaning the quality of Philippine media will bring us nowhere.

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Congratulations to the University of Santo Tomas team who came out the big winner in the 1st Student Ad Congress competition, garnering three gold awards given by Globe, PDI and Adobo magazine, and the Black Pencil top honor bestowed by Leo Burnett Advertising.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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