Geny’s dream of an all news station
- Boo Chanco () - November 15, 2006 - 12:00am
In one of those management meetings in ABS-CBN in the early 90s, I remember Geny Lopez making the observation that we could make a lot of money in entertainment but in the end, a broadcast network would be recognized by the quality of its news and public affairs. Of course, as the VP for news and public affairs at that time, that was music to my ears. But I wondered if Geny would put his money where his mouth is.

A few months later, Geny did put his money where his mouth was… and in a very big way. He asked me to start putting together what he envisions to be the Philippine version of CNN. We would start modestly, of course, in fact very modestly with just a couple of regular newscasts on SkyCable, occasional public affairs programs and live coverage of the sessions at the Senate. I also tried covering the kapihans around town live.

Thoughts of those early days came to mind as ABS-CBN launched last week a book on the life and times of Geny as he shaped the network from pre martial law days until his death on June 28, 1999. The book, entitled Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the making of ABS-CBN, portrayed him as a visionary industry pioneer… which he was, in many significant ways.

Going back to the all news channel, there was a time during its early days when I doubted if this was an idea that was worth doing … if Geny was just being too ahead of his time. I recall computing the potential number of viewers based on potential cable viewers of our particular channel… and it couldn’t be more than a handful… not even a thousand. Yet, I had to spend almost as much as TV Patrol in terms of production staff and facilities to put on the newscast.

But Geny was unfazed. That’s what pioneering work is all about, he said. And he didn’t hesitate to give me full support to build a new studio that’s dedicated to news in the old Jusmag site, complete with the latest broadcast facilities. I found out later on that having an all news operation was an early brainchild of his… starting with Radyo Reloj in the mid 50s. Even if that was just on radio, his concept of an all news station predates Ted Turner of CNN.

So I was allowed to put a staff together, separate from the regular ABS-CBN staff. I even got Maria Ressa and Luchi Cruz Valdez, who were many years later hired by his son Gabby to head ABS-CBN’s news operations, to conduct training sessions for my brand new staff. And we could pre-empt the Tagalog movies the SkyCable channel normally aired if there was a big event we wanted to cover live.

Eventually, I moved on to other assignments in the Lopez Group but the initial efforts we had in putting on an all news operation continued. Soon, ABS-CBN itself put up what was known as the Sarimanok Network News (SNN). And later on, that was merged with the SkyCable operation I initiated into what we now know as the ABS-CBN News Channel or ANC.

ANC is still not making money, and I guess they would be happy to break even. But the important thing is that Geny’s dream of an all news station was realized. And happier still, ANC performs an essential public service specially during times of political upheavals and natural calamities. Indeed, ANC is proving Geny right when he said a network will be known by the quality of its news and public affairs operations.

Get a copy of the book in the major bookstores. Written by Raul Rodrigo, it is the definitive story not just of Geny Lopez but of an industry whose reason for being is not just to entertain but to deliver an essential public service. I am proud and happy to have been part of it all. As for Geny, he did put his money where his mouth was… a rare breed.
Obet’s baby
I got this e-mail from a reader, Allen C.

Hello Mr. Chanco, I’ve been an avid reader of your column and I must say your topics are fair and interesting. I had read your article about low cost drugs and I would like to contribute more to your article.

I believe the program will flourish more if Mr. Obet focuses more on educating the people about generic drugs. I myself found that out when we were doing a thesis project for Botika Binhi a year ago (which is also a partner of Mr. Obet’s office), an NGO whose aim is to provide access for safe and cheap drugs. Though our survey showed satisfactory results, many are still skeptical about using cheaper drugs because of the mistaken thinking that the lower the price, the lesser its effectivity. Moreover, strong advertisements, especially those using actors as endorsers, really make an impact in the minds of the people.

But to tell you the truth, sky’s the limit for Obet’s program and other NGOs like Botika Binhi. It’s because they can penetrate in the depressed areas where the poor are, which cannot be done by Mercury Drug. What the government can do is to strengthen the logistics and managerial system of groups providing affordable medicines for the poor. Obet can work hand in hand with other NGO groups and not destroy them (because I’ve heard that they give lower prices than good NGO groups like Botika Binhi, and they set up places closer to these groups, thus creating competition within the area), identifying where and which to put, and conduct regular surveys.

PS: I hope Mr. Obet doesn’t jump into politics because he’s more useful there.
German restaurant
We were wandering around the Greenbelt area last Sunday looking for a new restaurant to have lunch when we came upon SCHWARZWALDER, a German restaurant that used to be where the expanded Ayala Museum now is. It moved to Makati Atrium but I didn’t have too many opportunities to go there these past years.

It was therefore pleasant to see that it now has this branch in a more convenient location. I love German sausages and German beer and aside from Schwarzwalder, the only other place where you can have them and feel like you are having the real thing is at the German Club. But not being a member of the German Club, I get the chance to go there only when the German embassy invites me to a function, normally around the time they celebrate German month.

As expected, the sausages were great. My wife and I ordered the platter of different sausages but it was too much for just the two of us. I had some of the left over for lunch the following day. The lentil soup was also good. Most lentil soups hereabouts taste not that different from mongo soup.

I didn’t realize last Sunday was the opening day of the restaurant’s Greenbelt branch. If the owner, Ralph Peter Jentes didn’t approach us to apologize for the delay in service, I wouldn’t have noticed they were having problems. Looks like Mr. Jentes has pretty exacting standards, no doubt developed through his many years as a top hotel executive.

As it turns out, Mr. Jentes had been here since the seventies, married a Filipina beauty queen and likes to think of himself as one who knows and loves the Filipino people. We talked a bit about his life and times in this country and he had very interesting views. Because of his experience in tourism, I asked him how come we don’t get more tourism related investments here, like hotels, even if there is now an acute shortage of hotel rooms. Comparable luxury suites are cheaper in Beijing than in Manila due to scarcity.

Well, he said, it is difficult for those who don’t know us to want to invest here. Our reputation as an investment location is not that good abroad. We change rules too often, he points out, and there is that pesky petty corruption that drives foreign investors out. It’s sayang, he says, because we have so much to offer as a country and as a people.

He recounted what he experienced just a few days ago, a common experience of entrepreneurs opening a new business like a restaurant. A group of fire inspectors visited him and demanded that he buys P80,000-worth of fire fighting equipment from them or he won’t get a necessary permit. That sounded familiar. My older sister experienced the same thing when she was opening her restaurant in Quezon City.

Well, Mr. Jentes is not one to be trifled with. He told them in so many words that he is not falling for that attempt at extortion. In the first place, he doesn’t need that much fire fighting equipment. He told them that if they didn’t back off, he’d be forced to go over their heads. They backed off for a couple of days but returned with a lower price offer of P50,000. Still, Mr. Jentes was not buying. They just might hear from their superiors.

The question is, why do their superiors even allow them to do that? It’s bad for business… it’s bad for the country’s reputation. Oh well…
Why?
Dr. Ernie E wonders why?

Why doctors call what they do "practice"?

Why the man who invests all your money is called a broker?

Why the time of day with the slowest traffic is called rush hour?

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com

ABS BOTIKA BINHI GENY GENY LOPEZ GERMAN GERMAN CLUB MR. JENTES MR. OBET NEWS OBET
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