Hope for decent family TV

Hope for decent family TV

June 1, 2010

Managing For Society, The Manila Times

From the looks of it, decency in family television programming has just made some progress recently. In a noteworthy move, the management of ABS-CBN has put Wowowee host Willie Revillame on an indefinite leave. Earlier, Revillame had demanded on air that fellow ABS-CBN employee and broadcast commentator Jobert Sucaldito be removed by management for being critical of of Wowowee. In his defense, Revillame was quoted in a letter to network management: “The show is not for me, but for those people who dream of a better life. Is it too much to ask that we be respected for what we do? Is it too much to ask that we be defended from such attacks?”

Let’s put things in perspective. 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.” In addition, the social responsibility of ABS-CBN is stipulated in its franchise (RA 7966) which states that the network shall “… not use its stations for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, act or scene ….”

TV that safeguards and enriches our cultural and social fabric? TV that avoids obscenity and indecency? These are tough requirements for any TV program, but they’re vital for a family-time program like Wowowee. Does Wowowee’s program content and Revillame’s behavior measure up? I’ve often wondered whether any of the noontime shows promote our social fabric at all. As to decency, it’s difficult to reconcile the use of sexually suggestive language, the increasingly immodest clothing of women and the demeaning treatment of game participants with this requirement.

As parents, we should be able to answer basic questions about family-time TV. Can we let our young children watch a program like Wowowee and be reasonably confident that they will be spared of obscenity and indecency? Will they learn about the best that Filipino social culture has to offer? Nowadays, it’s common to find pre-pubescent girls as adept in gyrating provocatively as any dancer in noontime TV. I don’t remember this as being part of our social and cultural fabric.

But the events leading to Revillame’s leave gives me some hope. For one thing, it was Sucaldito’s objections to Wowowee’s content which triggered the whole very public debate. The network management upheld Sucaldito’s right to give such a critique, despite Revillame’s plea to “be defended from such attacks.” This is responsible self-regulation as provided for in the ABS-CBN franchise.

It makes sense for the network to discipline Revillame. While I understand the host’s popularity and the money involved, the network has a responsibility to promote wholesome programming during family viewing schedules. TV hosts, popular and well-intentioned as they are, should be reminded that they do not alone determine what is in the public interest. Community standards apply and journalists have the duty to invoke these on behalf of the viewing public.

Is it too much to long for the days of Student Canteen, that long-running noontime show of my childhood, when hosts like Eddie Ilarde and Helen Vela took pains to observe propriety on the air? Or is noontime TV destined to slide down to decadence in pursuit of the all-important ratings? As long as the networks take their social responsibility seriously and the public remains vigilant in exercising its right to object to tasteless programming, I’m sure that edifying TV for the whole family can still be within our reach.

Dr. Ben Teehankee is an associate professor of management and ethics at De La Salle University. He may be emailed at teehankeeb@yahoo.com.