Dominance and Control: The Case Against Filipino Free TV
As you may very well know by now, the issue on AGB Nielsen’s “tampered ratings” have become headline stories in four major national newscasts: “24 Oras” and “Saksi” by GMA-7, and “TV Patrol World” and “Bandila” by ABS-CBN. If that isn’t enough, the two biggest networks in the country have not only taken this to the courts, but are also trying the case on the court of public opinion by running minute-long advertisements on the issue.
This is obviously not about ratings: this is about dominance and control. “Ratings” disguises the dominance-and-control agenda implicit in the messages of GMA-7 and ABS-CBN.
Media – particularly traditional broadcast media – exhibits the potential to dominate and to control the collective consciousness. More than anybody, they have the capacity and the capability to transmit messages that can (dramatically) alter public opinion and public perception. As such, it becomes important to someone that calls you “Kapamilya” or “Kapuso” to control you and make you subservient.
I’d like to be a bit academic (just a bit) with my arguments here: the least I want to happen is for people to misunderstand this idea of “dominance and control” to be a mere rhetorical device I’m employing as a disgruntled viewer.
Subject-referring properties and polarizing dichotomies
Free TV is not “brainwashing” anyone through mind-altering television signals, but through corporate-guided messages broadcast through those television signals. GMA-7 and ABS-CBN, through a series of consistent messages, have effectively polarized much of the public between being either “Kapuso” or “Kapamilya.”
The philosopher Charles Taylor talks about “subject-referring properties:” things that refer to the subject, for example emotions, bear a certain import . These imports sort of “speak” to the subject: a subject deems the thing important, and such sees value – no matter how superficial it is – in the object.
The term “Kapuso” (employed by GMA-7) speaks to the romantic in every Filipino, while the term “Kapamilya” (employed by ABS-CBN) speaks to core Filipino family values. The problem is that these are, by and large, catchphrases used by both networks: these are not truly genuine statements of love or of family. While it is true that some network talents really live up to being “kapamilya” or “kapuso” in the strictest sense of the term, living up to the slogan seems to be much more important.
What the corporate broadcast media elites have succeeded in doing is to alter the public consciousness enough into believing that “Kapuso” or “Kapamilya” mean something beyond the slogan: that in a shallow semiotic, you are actually a “lover” of, or “family” with, either station. So much so that there is only but a dichotomy that exists today: it’s either you watch ABS-CBN as a “Kapamilya,” or you watch GMA-7 as a “Kapuso.”
Claude Lévi-Strauss proposes that the dichotomy – the binary opposition – is a paradox reflected in myth : it is, by nature and by application, contradictory. If you’re not alive, you’re dead; if the color is not black, it is white; and if you’re not “Kapuso,” you’re “Kapamilya.” Disregarding Jacques Derrida’s concept of différance for now, all binary oppositions take as a given that one must take primacy over another. What the corporate broadcast media elites are doing right now is to take primacy: that one has a better quality of programming than the other network, that one has better ratings than the other network.
Ratings as propaganda
Ratings themselves are irrelevant to average viewers. Ideally, ratings are supposed to be confidential statistical presentations that should be used by networks to improve their programs. However, ratings have been successfully used by both networks as a tool to legitimate their viewers’ statuses as “Kapamilya” or “Kapuso.”
Both networks, in their respective TV ads , claim that this issue is not about who’s first or who’s second: this is merely about “the truth.” “The truth” is rather obvious at this point: it is a matter of personal preference, and all Filipinos switch channels at one point or another in any given time of day. A die-hard “Kapamilya” or “Kapuso” – that is to say a household that is always tuned to ABS-CBN or GMA-7 – is extremely hard to come by, and I might as well stick my neck out in saying that such a household doesn’t exist.
The corporate broadcast media elites, however, have succeeded in saying otherwise. You won’t tire of hearing “number one” being blurted out in television shows and ads for television shows. Ratings, like any statistical exercise, are broad overviews: they will always have blind spots .
More importantly, ratings do not measure the quality of programming or the strength of television signals: the truth is, they validate or repudiate the marketing strategy and the effect of network propaganda in a given area. It does not have to be fair or it doesn’t have to be fought on a level playing field, as much as it only has to be effective. This is where ABS-CBN is winning the battle for cable dominance, and why GMA-7 is broadcasting a hotline number for SkyCable-related complaints in the news tickers for “24 Oras.”
The denial of choice: “The truth” and its consequences
So if ratings don’t measure quality programming, what does? Short answer: it’s a matter of personal preference. “Quality” means so many things to different people, which is why ABS-CBN and GMA-7 continue to struggle over this. More and more people are shifting over to cable programming because of the poor quality of free TV programs.
But for the bulk of the Filipino people who rely upon aerials, cable is not an option. The most successful polarization in local free TV today is on the noontime gameshows “Eat Bulaga” and “Wowowee,” where both Joey de Leon and Willie Revillame have been venerated without understanding. Where Willie is seen as a savior by many of the poor, he is seen as a cheater by Joey. All of a sudden, it no longer matters to the people if you would go to EDSA to decry your disappointment with the government and demand change: it becomes more important to choose between Willie or Joey.
The ratings war took this to a whole different level: an average viewer is presented with a choice between ABS-CBN or GMA-7, or suffer the consequences. A respected journalist like Sandra Aguinaldo, for example, is at the center of GMA-7’s reportage on tampered ratings: instead of being the well-respected documentarist that she is, she has become GMA-7’s nighttime mouthpiece for the most publicized libel suit in Philippine history.
Domination is at the center of the Oedipal figure in the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari : Oedipus colonizes its members, represses desires, and organizes them so much so that they behave in a controlled fashion. The Oedipal figures of “Kapamilya” and “Kapuso” has structured us so much that even the potential to switch channels is repressed, discouraged, and annihilated: our viewing habits controlled not according to our own needs and desires, but to what is profitable for, and beneficial to, their interests.
As Oedipal figures, “Kapamilya” and “Kapuso” link us into seemingly inexonerable, permanent associations with TV networks: with the caveat of the prefix “ka.” Oedipal complexes are triangulated: Daddy-Mommy-Me. The two big TV networks don’t: its me and ABS-CBN, me and GMA-7. This is a vertical relationship: a relationship of subjugation and of control. A free TV viewer is left with absolutely no choice but to watch, to be dominated, to be controlled.
They have succeeded at this point to be at the absolute extreme of the Oedipus Complex: our lives as a people are now revolving around free TV.
“You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
This is the battlecry of Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto: I’m not saying that we should tread the path towards Communism, but I’m saying that we should all be wary of the dominance-and-control agenda of the corporate broadcast media elites. The imperative is not just resistance, but outright rejection. You do not resist Oedipus: you reject it.
My case against Filipino free TV is to reject it outright: to reject domination, to reject control. We should reclaim our inalienable right to free choice. Cable and satellite must be made readily available for the populace, so as to grant them more options in the way of quality programming. Networks like IBC-13, RPN-9, and ABC-5 should improve their signals and churn out quality programming instead of home TV shopping shows.
But the legitimate threat to the Oedipal oligopoly that is ABS-CBN and GMA-7 is the viewer: I urge you to stop watching their programs. Do not allow yourselves to be controlled by their sloganeering and their self-serving advertisements. And if you are forced to watch their programs, remain critical: have a good, solid idea of what you want to watch, and compare that idea to their programming. Do not be swayed by their promotions and their ads: reject being a “Kapamilya” or a “Kapuso,” and remain who you are to the very end.
It is not the ratings that are tampered. The people have been tampered.
 See Taylor’s essay, entitled “Self-Interpreting Animals,” in Philosophical Papers I: Human Agency and Language, 1985 Cambridge University Press
 Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, 1970 Harper and Row
 “Disputes in statistical analyses,” http://www.informath.org/StatDis.pdf
 Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1983 University of Minnesota Press