WITH its wide reach, Philippine television has become the top advertising medium during elections. In the last elections, TV networks also became a venue for the electorate to get to learn about the candidates and their platforms.

The two leading stations, ABS-CBN and GMA, came up with their own comprehensive coverage of the election in partnership with reputable media and business groups.

ABS-CBN partnered with the STI Computer Institute, Philippine Star, Globe Telecom, BayanTel, Pulse Asia, and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting for its election coverage, dubbed Halalan ’07.

Meanwhile, GMA partnered with the AMA University, Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), PLDT, Smart Telecom, Catholic Media Network (CMN), Newsbreak online magazine, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for Eleksyon 2007.

Both channels exerted efforts in coming up with shows to enlighten millions of televiewers and help them make an informed choice on election day.

Philippine agenda

GMA News and Public Affairs aired an eight-part weekly documentary special titled Philippine Agenda from March 25 to May 13. Shown on primetime, it maximized a full hour to emphasize the various social issues and dilemmas the country faces and that must be addressed by the candidates.

Hosted by Mike Enriquez, Mel Tiangco, Jessica Soho, Arnold Clavio and Vicky Morales, the show consists of investigative or explanatory reports about corruption, crime and justice, housing, job security, health, environment, and poverty. Its pilot episode dealt with the quandaries of the education sector.

The eight episodes also integrated social statistics based on studies by government and private think tanks. The episodes also incorporated real situations to make viewers realize the repercussions of poverty and poor governance.

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Senate bets on the hot seat

ABS-CBN launched Forum 2007: The Senatorial Elections on its cable news channel, ANC. In each episode, the forum introduced a triad of senatorial candidates representing competing political parties such as Team Unity (TU), Genuine Opposition (GO), Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), and Ang Kapatiran. The invited candidates focused on an issue, which they discussed with a select panel of experts and critics.

In the March 12 episode, which discussed the issues on charter change, TU bet Edgardo Angara argued about certain aspects of the Constitution that needed to be overhauled such as the Supreme Court’s intervening power in economic and policy decisions.

Meanwhile, GO’s Francis Escudero and KBL’s Oliver Lozano argued otherwise, saying constitutional change would hardly benefit the people.

On the other hand Isang Tanong, GMA’s two-part senatorial forum, featured 36 senatorial candidates plunked on the hot seat answering varied questions thrown by a jury of journalists, media bosses, and the candidates themselves.

Isang Tanong also featured a panel led by Enriquez, Soho, Clavio, Morales, and Tiangco of GMA News and Current Affairs, Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria of Newsbreak, Conrado de Quiros and Manuel Quezon III of PDI, Alecks Pabico of PCIJ, and Rev. Fr. Francis Lucas of CMN.

Separated in groups of three, the 36 candidates answered four questions each, the first question coming from a GMA broadcaster. Only one candidate convened with the panelists in the “hot seat” while the two others waited in a sound-proof cubicle. The second question was given by one of GMA’s media partners, the third from the yellow ballot box written by the candidates themselves, and the last a general question.

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As the senatorial contenders were put on the spot, most of them struggled with the panelists’ queries about the pork barrel, extra-judicial killings, poverty alleviation, criminality, and charter change.

Coseteng pushed for the use of artificial contraceptives to control population growth, while TU candidate Cesar Montano was asked about the origin of his party’s campaign funds and replied that it came from businessmen who supported the slate.

Isang Tanong was not dragging. It was fast-paced, consistent, and exciting as the audiences were given the chance to compare and see who of the 36 hopefuls have what it takes to occupy the 12 seats in the Senate.

Isang Tanong also managed to reintroduce the candidates in a different angle, as normal people with emotions. Through video tape recordings, televiewers witnessed how human these candidates were. Independent candidate Pangilinan even broke down in tears after asked when the last time he cried.

According to the Fair Elections Act, all registered parties and candidates must have equal access to media time and space. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ensures that radio, television or cable television broadcasting entities shall not allow the scheduling of any program or permit any sponsor to manifestly favor or oppose any candidate or political party.

“The COMELEC has set a limit to any kind of electoral propaganda may it be in print, telecast, or radio broadcast,” Thomasian lawyer Ricky dela Cruz told the Varsitarian.

However, the act upholds the right of broadcast entities to air news events of public interest.

“Although senatorial forums, such as Forum 2007 and Isang Tanong, are shows under the umbrella of the news and current affairs category, they still feature the candidates,” said dela Cruz. “That is why broadcast stations are required to allot equal time and exposure to the senatorial candidates to be fair.”

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Both forums were able to adhere to these promulgations. Isang Tanong enforced time limit for the speakers. Even detained candidate Antonio Trillanes IV had his fair share of exposure as he was beamed live from the Makati City Jail, where he is in detention for charges in connection with the coup attempt in 2003, during the forum.

Wake-up call

Based on the AGB Nielsen Mega Manila overnight survey, Isang Tanong garnered a 17-percent audience share, a considerably high rating for a graveyard time slot.

“This is high for a late-night public affairs show, especially because it was up against a beauty pageant (Miss Philippines Earth on ABS-CBN), which had a rating of 11.1 percent,” GMA vice president for public affairs Nessa Valdellon told reporters. Andrew Isiah P. Bonifacio

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