Building corporate conscience

I met Manny Pangilinan around a decade ago when he was invited by Dean Philip Juico of De La Salle University’s Graduate School of Business to be a reactor to my lecture on moral business creativity. I spoke on the importance of entrepreneurial founders in building a culture of ethics in business organizations. I argued that the ethical values of a business are set during its early years by the original leadership and these values form the moral compass for succeeding management teams.

In his thoughtful response, Pangilinan, who studied under noted business ethicist Thomas Donaldson at the Wharton School, shared his view that companies who may not have behaved in the most ethical manner in its early years are actually capable of reforming themselves. He cited the example of a British company which originally made its wealth in the 1800s through the trading of Indian opium into China. The company reformed itself and has since grown to be a legitimate business presence in China and the rest of the world.

Pangilinan made his point well. Companies are led by human beings, after all, and if humans can change, so can companies. So when Pangilinan acquired ABC TV5, I was eager to see how his leadership will translate to better TV programming in the country. At the very least, I hoped to see more wholesome and educational family TV which we badly need and hardly see anymore. For many families, TV has become the modern-day opium: irresistible and insidiously corrupting.

Republic Act No. 7925, known as the Public Telecommunications Policy Act, declares that “telecommunications … shall be developed and administered as to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the economic, cultural, social and political fabric of the Philippines.” On the other hand, ABC’s franchise states, among others, its responsibility to “assist in the functions of public information and education … and not use its stations for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, act, [or] scene ….” The franchise further states that the network commits to self-regulate itself in this regard.

The transfer of Willie Revillame from ABS-CBN to ABC was not what I had in mind for alternative family TV. I grew up with the singing and quiz contests of Student Canteen and today’s spectacle of gyrating young women in a supposedly family show is an uncomfortable manifestation of how sexualized family programs have become. The powerful influence of TV on the young is well established. It isn’t a surprise that many pre-pubescent Filipinas can gyrate so suggestively but it’s unclear to me how this trend enriches and strengthens our social fabric.

On the heels of the Willing Willie and Jan-Jan controversy, now comes a ray of hope for self-regulation towards decent family TV. ABC has released its Guidelines on the Treatment of Children as Viewers, Subjects, Talents or Participants. The Guidelines state: “In the development of its television programming, the Network shall ensure that children have access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of their social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. The Network shall endeavor to promote Philippine traditions and cultural values in children’s programming.” The Guidelines specify that “All acts, presentations, or performances that will be made by children must be age- and developmentally-appropriate”.

What can I say? This is a watershed event in local TV programming. If ABC seriously implements the Guidelines and the public reciprocates by supporting it, the other networks cannot but do the same. The Jan-Jan incident was unfortunate in many ways but, as Pangilinan knows, a company is ultimately defined not by how it misbehaves but how it reforms itself and thereby builds its conscience.