BARELY nine months after its maiden telecast, TV Maria, the flagship television station of the Archdiocese of Manila, is still “full of grace,” coming up with several new programs to redeem Filipino and Christian values in the boob tube.

A brainchild of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin and the National Office for Mass Media (NOMM) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), TV Maria gives genuine alternatives to no-brainer entertainment, sex and crime shows and fundamentalist TV programs. The station, inspired by its international counterpart, the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), was named after Mary in honor of her role as Jesus’ first apostle.Deviating from the proselytizing programs of Iglesia ni Cristo in Net 25 and Gem TV and Ang Dating Daan in RJTV 29 and UNTV 37, TV Maria seeks to offer wholesome entertainment to a variety of religious persuasions, while not downplaying its Catholic identity.

Conceived without sin

According to NOMM head Fr. James Reuter, S.J., proponents of TV Maria were initially beset by lack of appropriate logistics and financial backing.

“When TV Maria was just being conceived, some of us were hesitant to go on air primarily because of our limited resources. Nevertheless, I told them that we should start right away so that this project can gain recognition from the people and to attract resources as well,” Reuter told the Varsitarian.

The project kicked off after business tycoon Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuanco gave TV Maria the Channel 21 station of his Dream Satellite TV, the Philippines’ only direct-to-home satellite network.

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Aside from its nationwide telecast, TV Maria is beamed to other cable providers and media outfits in Mainland China, Canada, the United States, and 22 other Middle East nations through the Philippines’ Agila II Satellite.

But since subscription to Dream Broadcasting System is relatively expensive, Reuter said NOMM is considering partnerships with local cable companies like Sky Cable, Destiny Cable, and local networks for broadcasting rights.

Tapped as the hub of the Catholic Church’s media outreach program, TV Maria is also collaborating with Radio Veritas and its 49 regional stations to create an interactive and parallel national broadcast.

“The target audience is Filipino, young and old, wherever they may be. TV Maria intends to reach the rich and the poor, educated and uneducated, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and even those with no religion,” Reuter said, citing TV Maria’s editorial policy.

Initially featuring noble projects like Gawad Kalinga and Pondo ng Pinoy, TV Maria is also airing programs and documentaries from students, schools and non-profit organizations.

At present, TV Maria features Love Life, a magazine talk show produced by Pro-Life Philippines; Light Talk, another talk show where invited speakers tackle moral issues; the weekly prayer gatherings of the charismatic group El Shaddai; ACTV: You Rock My World, a one-hour magazine show that highlights a female teenager’s life; Soul Mix, TV Maria’s version of MTV that plays lively and colorful music videos from students of Ateneo De Manila University; Word Made Flesh, a magazine show that applies the Holy Scriptures in everyday life; and Men of Light, a talk show that reflects on the Sunday Gospel through a panel discussion.

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Apart from its religious segments, TV Maria also airs value-laden documentaries. Already aired were student drama anthologies and documentaries from St. Paul University of Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and Assumption College.

UST has been asked to contribute materials to TV Maria.

Media Studies Department chair Jose Arsenio Salandanan said the Faculty of Arts and Letters is in the process of producing materials that would best meet TV Maria’s advocacies.

“The Media Studies Department is honored with the invitation to be part of TV Maria, so I asked professors handling film courses if they could tell their students to make value-based video programs, which could possible TV Maria materials, as a project in their classes,” Salandanan said. “Hopefully, after this semester, we could come up with materials that would fit TV Maria.”

According to Salandanan, TV Maria’s call for entries is not limited to a specific program format or to a specific topic, provided that the programs showcase moral values as a general theme.

With the coming of TV Maria, the boob tube will no longer be what John Paul II called the “devil’s box,” but God’s messenger rightly placed at the center of the home. Anthony Andrew G. Divinagracia and Nathaniel R. Melican

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