‘TV Patrol’ and tabloid journalism

Switching Channels

There was a time when newscasts left sensational stories such as bloody killings and sex scandals to the tabloids and newscasters like Jose Mari Velez and Bong Lapira had the same calm, controlled voice in reporting good and bad news. All of that changed in 1987 when ABS-CBN launched "TV Patrol" and unabashedly admitted that the network was shifting to tabloid journalism. The new one-hour format called for more crime stories (murders, rapes, kidnapping), showbiz developments (love triangles, marital break-ups, sex scandals) and less issue-oriented stories.

On top of that, the news was delivered in Filipino, lingua franca of the mass audience and announcers were instructed to add several decibels to their voices.  English newscasts such as "The World Tonight," which featured more substantial topics, were moved to the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) where newscasters Tina Monzon-Palma and Angelo Castro delivered the news in a subdued manner.

The tabloid formula must have worked because "TV Patrol" managed to get unprecedented high ratings that attracted many advertisers. For once, the news department became a profit center for ABS-CBN. In the past, news operations always resulted in red ink but the network didn't mind because of the prestige that came with broadcast journalism.

More than two decades later, "TV Patrol" continues to follow the same format with some modifications. Anchors Noli de Castro, Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon now shout "TEEVEEE (long pause) PATROL" before commercial breaks. There is also a regular survey where viewers can answer yes or no to such questions as "Sapat na ba ang sampung libong piso para sa mga kawani ng gobyerno sa kapaskuhan?" Isn't it obvious that viewers will reply in the negative since most government employees are underpaid? Besides, non-scientific surveys do not necessarily reflect public opinion and may mislead the viewing audience.

The three comment on the news and exchange jokes at the end of the show. In most newscasts abroad, news anchors are not allowed to editorialize. Also, the network doesn't see anything wrong with a cabinet official's wife and a former vice president doing the news, not even when Noli was the subject of a news story on Pag-Ibig funds and Korina's hubby, Transportation and Communications Secretary  Mar Roxas figured in several reports. Can you imagine former US vice president Dick Cheney anchoring a newscast?

To be fair, Noli and Mar are not involved in any form of impropriety. However, I have always believed newscasters should be perceived as objective. How can a news program be perceived as unbiased when two of its news anchors have political connections?

The ABS-CBN newscast probably obtained record-breaking ratings in the past two weeks with the Ramgen Bautista murder case and the Maguindanao massacre hogging the headlines. These are two stories that deserve prominence on "TV Patrol."

The Ramgen killing implicates the victim's relatives and involves a prominent family. The Maguindanao incident sent shock waves not just locally but also on the international scene because 58 people including 38 journalists were slaughtered.

I don't understand why minor stories like a motorcycle accident, a rumble involving Korean tourists, the mauling of an unknown ex-actor by a group of basketball players, none of which involved someone getting killed, are given importance on primetime. That's what happens when a network practices tabloid journalism.

GMA and TV5 have also joined the fray with the stentorian voices of Mike Enriquez and Erwin Tulfo.

On a positive note, "TV Patrol" shines when natural disasters such as storms, floods and earthquakes strike. The network goes all the way in informing viewers about the latest developments. Armed with modern TV equipment, ABS-CBN is able to air reports, most of which are supported by video, from different parts of the country. Its reporters brave the elements to give live updates from the field. The network is also quick to respond when it comes to distributing relief goods to calamity victims.

Disclaimer: The views and observations of the author do not represent the position of Yahoo! Southeast Asia on the issue or topic being discussed.