Potential ABS-CBN shutdown a loss for Filipino audiences and culture too, scholars note

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Potential ABS-CBN shutdown a loss for Filipino audiences and culture too, scholars note
A scene from ABS-CBN show 'Kadenang Ginto' that has sparked many memes. Actress Dimples Romana plays Daniela Mondragon on the popular afternoon drama.
ABS-CBN / Kadenang Ginto, screenshot

MANILA, Philippines — Broadcast network ABS-CBN faces the possibility of having to shut down indefinitely if a bill to renew its franchise is not passed into law before March—a prospect that President Rodrigo Duterte has hinted at if not virtually guaranteed.

The Palace has insisted that franchise renewal is an issue that solely rests with the legislative branch, where the PDP-Laban-led administration has overwhelming numbers, while media watchdogs and journalists' groups have called the threat to let the franchise lapse a strike against press freedom.

The possibility of ABS-CBN shutting down puts thousands of jobs in peril, but Asian culture and media studies scholars noted that closing of one of the biggest media companies in the country will also impact Philippine culture and society.

TV amplifies voices of the poor

Global Digital Media associate professor Jonathan Ong, who teaches at the Department of Communication at University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that TV in the Philippines is more than just a source of news, information and entertainment but it is also an “institution that the Filipino poor would turn to in times of need and calamity.”

Ong has a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Cambridge and a master's degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. He is also the author of "The Poverty of Television: The Mediation of Suffering in Class-Divided Philippines", which was published in 2017. 

In my research in Filipino slum communities and their TV rituals, what stood out for me was the intimacy developed with television. TV is not just a coping mechanism but for the most desperate, they are real places to visit and line up for so they could tell their own stories in the game show, or request for charity assistance,” Ong told Philstar.com in an email.

TV networks in the Philippines reserve their noontime slot for variety shows that feature games and nationwide talent competitions.

'TV, movies shape us a people'

Asian culture scholar Laurence Castillo meanwhile pointed out that while TV and movies entertain, their stories “shape how we imagine, dream about and understand, the society, the nation and the world.”

“How we relate to the world beyond our living rooms is influenced by how we see this world on the TV or movies,” he added in an e-mail exchange with Philstar.com.

Castillo is a PhD candidate in Asian Studies at the University of Melbourne, and a literary and cultural studies professor at the University of the Philippine Los Baños.

Public awareness, disaster response

ABS-CBN runs programs from early morning until late at night and airs talk shows, variety shows, local and dubbed foreign teleseryes—some of which have become household names—and even situational comedies.

Its news and public affairs programs on free TV include periodic news updates throughout the day and primetime newscasts. It also hosts documentaries.

The ABS-CBN News Channel, ANC, runs news and current affairs shows round the clock.

Ong noted that through ABS-CBN’s Bantay Bata program, founded by the late Gina Lopez, helped “shaped public awareness about children’s rights,” while its Sagip Kapamilya program serves as a channel for disaster response that has, at times, arrived in disaster zones ahead of government relief.  

Bantay Bata is the country’s first media-based helpline for children’s welfare that continues to protect disadvantaged and at-risk children.

Castillo also said that ABS-CBN “is an influential force in shaping popular tastes, developing new forms of storytelling, and defining the ever evolving landscape of mass culture.”

In the 1990s, ABS-CBN produced "Sineswekla" to teach Science to kids, "Bayani" to introduce Philippine history and our country’s heroes, "Math Tinik" for math, "Pahina" for Philippine literature and "Hiraya Manawari" for teaching kids life lessons.

ABS-CBN now airs "Wansapanataym", which takes a leaf from "Hiraya Manawari".

Conduit for culture exchanges

In the 2010s, ABS-CBN saw the export of its Philippine-made dramas like "Pangako Sa’yo", "On the Wings of Love", "Be Careful with my Heart" and "Wildflower". 

With this, the television giant “has likewise become a conduit for the transnational circulation and exchange of popular cultures,” Castillo pointed out.

Over the years, TV imported animated series to teleseryes—from Mexico to the now popular Korean dramas—and has “introduced local TV audiences to cultural works from other countries.”

He adds: “TV series produced by the station have also been exported, introducing Philippine pop culture to audiences in other countries.”

In September 2019, ABS-CBN announced that its 2017 primetime drama “Wildflower,” a revenge-themed drama, aired on French channel Outre-mer la 1ère.

Afternoon drama and cult favorite “Kadenang Ginto” has also announced that it has just been remade for Indonesia audiences.

'Shrinking spaces for creative freedom'

Castillo noted that ABS-CBN’s “creative forms have gone to the extent of communicating, even commenting on, socio-political issues.”

He stressed that a shutdown of ABS-CBN’s broadcast unit "[would mean] the loss of one influential platform for popular cultural dissemination, and more disturbingly the loss of employment for thousands...in the creative industries.”

"It sends a chilling message about the ever shrinking spaces for creative freedom and artistic practice in the political context,” Castillo added.

In the 1990s, ABS-CBN had post-martial law era sitcom "Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata" that poked fun at a corrupt congressman and his rich family, and told the story of the family of a man juggling odd jobs to get by.

Comedy show "Goin’ Bulilit" had children performing in sketches that offered social commentary and political satire before it went off the air after 14 years,

Gothic turned paranormal drama “The Killer Bride” has also created a massive following on social media as users share clips of the show's characters throwing lines that border on commentary on national issues.

These include controversies on Sen. Imee Marcos’ educational background, the Dengvaxia controversy, and falling rice prices that have affected Filipino farmers.

FROM INTERAKSYON: Some clips of ABS-CBN primetime show ‘The Killer Bride’ are going viral. Here’s why.

Ong said that a possible shutdown of ABS-CBN would mean loss of disaster responders and full-scale charity operations such as Bantay Bata and Sagip Kapamilya.

“Historically, Philippine TV acts as the government in the context of a weak state unable to respond to the needs of its poor constituents,” he said.

“Philippine TV is the ‘big man’ patron of the poor. Under Duterte’s strongman government, other ‘big men’ patrons would pose a threat,” Ong added.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has launched a signature campaign to call for Congress to renew the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN.

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