Monday, October 8, 2007

Agenda Setting: How To Package It Right (Part Two)

PART TWO: Keeping The Audience

There's no doubt about it: media has incredible power and control over its audience. To what extent it is able to exercise its power is debatable, however. Time and again, the audience are able to prove that they are not easily duped and manipulated by the media - that they are capable of producing agendas which may not have been the media's primary intent. And this is why media makers have to make sure they utilize to its fullest extent media's ultimate power - the power of agenda setting.

I've discussed in my previous post one of media's power in agenda setting: determining when and how this agenda would be set. This ensures that media has an audience in which to set an agenda upon. However, even when media is able to capture an audience, it still has to make sure that it is able to keep this audience interested long enough for them to receive the agenda it would like to set. And this is where the idea of "packaging" comes in, where media makers have to be crafty and cunning in the way they will package a medium of media to make sure it captures the audience's interest.

As David Altheide says in Media Power:

“The idea I am stressing is not merely that people are involved with various forms of mass communication, or that some attitudes, opinions, and even behaviors are directly or indirectly influenced by mass media content. I am claiming that the explicit content of media is relevant, but is not the most important feature of media imagery, effect, and consequence. What strikes me as even more important is what may be termed the implicit content, the grammar, rhythm, pacing, style, and presentational mode. In this sense, it is the way things appear, look, shape up, and are configured if they are to be “right.” For example, TV news information has a certain look and rhythm to it. As long as this is associated with news and the contexts of these special effects are not explicated, then it looks fine, complete, good enough, even true. The problem, then, is to raise to consciousness how this TV form in a particular context has helped to generate this kind of format that is now widely shared throughout the world, can be regarded as a feature of rational ideology in its own right, and, therefore, is far more pervasive and consequential than run-of-the-mill political preferences. Thus, my interest is less guided by the query, “what is presented,” but more focused on “how is something presented?(Emphasis mine.)

- Altheide, David L. Media Power. London: Sage Publications, 1985.

Just as I have done in my previous post, I would again use the news programs of ABS-CBN and GMA 7 as examples. First up is "TV Patrol World," ABS-CBN's primetime news program. Here is a clip of how the program starts each night:

After it makes its audience watch Kris Aquino sashay in her evening gowns, and after it makes them scream "Deal!" or "No deal!" at their poor, innocent television sets, ABS-CBN keeps its audience's eyes glued to the TV screen by presenting them with this catchy opening of "TV Patrol World." Now, if you're a regular news viewer like me, a scene like this is probably common to you. So much to the point that you just watch it passively and simply wait for the news reports to begin - after all, there's nothing new with a scene like this, right? But that's exactly the point. We've been conditioned to watch news programs this way that we already find this acceptable; that we already find this real. But have you ever wondered just exactly why the opening scene is crafted this way? Aside from capturing the audience's attention, does airing a flashy opening scene like this serve another, covert purpose, especially for the media makers, the agenda setters?

Let's break the scene into parts and reflect on them:

I. Several clips of the news anchors in different situations flash briefly on the screen, followed by a quick flash of the globe's image.
II. Ted Failon, one of the program's three main news anchors, seemingly interviewing someone presumably at the ABS-CBN studio.
III. Karen Davila, the program's only female news anchor, sitting in front of a sari-sari store, talking with children in what seems to be a street in a poor area.
IV. Julius Babao, another of the program's news anchors, arriving at presumably the rooftop of the ABS-CBN studio in a helicopter bearing the network's name.
V. A quick flash of an image of the three news anchors together.
VI. A booming announcer's voice saying, "Live! Mula sa ABS-CBN News Center, Manila, ito ang TV Patrol World!" The screen flashes the title of news program as the announcer places special emphasis on the word "world."
VII. Julius Babao says, "Magandang gabi, Pilipinas!" followed by Karen Davila who says, "Kami ang nagpapatrol ng Pilipino!" and by Ted Failon who says, "Nagbabalita at naglilingkod sa inyo saan man sa mundo!"

What seems to be wrong with these scenes? Perhaps it's the fact that people start to perceive how real these scenes are even though these rarely happen in reality.

How many times do you see someone as well-known as Karen Davila out on the streets talking to ordinary people, much less children? How many times do you see someone actually go to work by riding a helicopter, like the way Julius Babao did? Why do the news anchors make it seem as if they are the ones really "patrolling" the Philippines when they don't do anything else other than stand in the center of the studio in front of the cameras and look pretty? And perhaps what I find both ironic and amusing is that, why do they claim that they broadcast news from anywhere in the world when in fact they're just broadcasting from the ABS-CBN studio in Manila, and that the international news they air on the show actually didn't come directly from them?

Before we try to make sense of these questions, let us see what GMA 7 has to offer its audience as well. Here is a clip of how "24 Oras" opens the program each night.:

As with TV Patrol, let us break the opening scene of "24 Oras" into parts and see what we can deduce from them:

I. The words "Dahil hindi natutulog ang balita" flash on screen with an image of a wall clock which hands are moving fast.
II. Fast forwarded clip of a traffic scene, followed by an image of a sunrise over an urban city and the words "24 Oras."
III. Mel Tiangco, the main female news anchor of the program, staring at the heavens along with several people and then interacting with them afterwards. The words "Maaasahan" appear in this scene.
IV. Mike Enriquez, the main male news anchor, talking on the phone while walking amidst ruins of a burned house. The words "Lumalaban" appear in this scene.
V. Images of urban roads flash on screen.
VI. Mel Tiangco, Mike Enriquez and Pia Guanio, the news anchor for the Showbiz section of the program, talking inside an office and going over some papers. The words "Pinagkakatiwalaan" and "Laging Patas" appear in this scene.
VII. The words "24 Oras" appear again, this time followed by an image of the moon rising over an urban city, and then followed by the three news anchors together.
VIII. A booming announcer's voice says, "Mula sa GMA Network Center, narito ang walang kinikilingan, walang pinoprotektahan... Mel Tiangco! Mike Enriquez!"
IX. Mel Tianco says, "Magandang gabi po, ito ang 24 Oras!" and Mike Enriquez says, "Dahil hindi natutulog ang balita!"

Now what's wrong with this scene? The same critique as with "TV Patrol World." And the fact that the words being flashed along with the news anchors seem slightly dubious.

Paano mo masasabing maaasahan si Mel Tiangco samantalang ang pinakita sa eksena'y nakikipag-usap lang naman siya? Paano mo masasabing lumalaban si Mike Enriquez samantalang pinakita pa ngang naglalakad siya palayo sa mga natatarantang tao sa likuran niya? At higit sa lahat, paano mo mapatutunayang pinagkatitiwalaan (mali pa nga yata ang gramatikang ginamit ng programa), laging patas, walang kinikilingan at walang pinoprotektahan ang "24 Oras"? Kagaya ng mga natalakay na ng iba kong mga kasamahan, paano kung may anomalyang naganap sa loob mismo ng o kasapi ang GMA 7? Ang GMA 7 na siyang nageere ng "24 Oras"? Kaya pa rin bang panindigan ng "24 Oras" ang sinasabi nitong wala siyang pinoprotektahan?

(Pardon my sudden shift to Filipino. I needed to use the words "24 Oras" flashed in their opening scene, and it just didn't seem right to use both English and Tagalog in a sentence.)

My point in making this blog entry is not so much as finding the answers to the questions above as finding out why opening scenes of news programs are supposed to be this way despite the questions about them. It seems as if news programs are supposed to be "packaged" this way because this is only when the audience will accept them, much in the same way that regardless of its content, a child will more easily accept and be pleased with a beautifully packaged gift than with a plain-looking one. In the case of media, an agenda would be set more successfully upon the audience if the audience deems the giver of this agenda as worthy and acceptable.

Despite the fact that they rarely go out and actually mingle with ordinary people, both Karen Davila and Mel Tiangco have to keep an image of being caring and "motherly" in order to present an image of news anchors - and of all the other people involved in broadcasting news - as people who are approachable and who look after the welfare of the "little people." It appeals to the masses because these news anchors make them feel special, that they are not as left out in society as they believe they are.

Despite the fact that their coverage is just not that wide and encompassing, "TV Patrol World" has to continously assure its audience that their coverage reaches into even the farthest corners of the world. It has to assure the audience that they aren't being kept ignorant or in the dark about what is happening in the world, that the media is not (yet) powerless against these life-changing events, and that the media is (still) in control in each situation.

Despite the fact that socialites, politicians and big businessmen - who each has his own "businesses" to protect - run and are behind GMA 7, "24 Oras" has to constantly prove to its audience that it is fair and just. That even amidst this era wherein no one can be sure of who to trust anymore, amidst this sea of suspicion and doubt, news programs like "24 Oras" will still be there to serve as a life vest to keep people from sinking into society's whirlpool of veiled chaos.

Despite the fact that they're telling little white lies, news programs have to be this way for them to be able to deliver the truth.

And this is the media's second power in being an agenda setter: not only does it decide what the agenda for the society should be, but it also gives its audience reason to believe that the source of this agenda - even before they receive the agenda itself - is right.

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