Friday, January 01, 2010

The Martial Law Years

The Marcos administration was continually attacked in news programs but the late dictator did not take it sitting down. He realized that only absolute control of this medium would stop it.

On September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. It was probably the worst time for Philippine television and the scariest moment on TV. Media were cited as a prime enemy of the administration and the target of Marcos forces.

The first letter of instruction issued by Marcos ordered the take over of all media firms to prevent “communist” propaganda. Troops entered radio and television stations, sealed them, and placed under military control. All media outlets that were critical of the Marcos regime were shut down.

“Within a few hours, the government had wiped out the entire news media of the Philippines, except for [those that are pro-Marcos].” (B-Lent, 179)

GTV Channel 4, the government channel, was taken over by the Office of Press Secretary Francisco Tatad and the National Media Production Center of Gregorio Cendaña.

Shutdown and takeovers

The Filipinos’ first experience of television under martial law began with a blank screen, punctuated only by appearances of President Marcos and Press Secretary Francisco Tatad reading edict after edict. It was a portent of much more chilling realities to come. (Pinoy, 93)

Of the seven Manila-based stations existing in 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos closed all but three; channels 9 and 13 were eventually controlled by [then Ambassador] Roberto Benedicto, and Bob Stewart’s Channel 7 was later allowed to operate with limited three-month permits. (Pinoy, 95)

ABS-CBN was seized from the Lopez family, and Eugenio Lopez Jr., then president of ABS-CBN, was imprisoned.

By the latter part of 1973, Channel 7 was in the red and was forced to sell 70% of the business to a group of investors, who changed the name from RBS to Greater Manila Area (GMA) Radio Television Arts.

Stewart was forced to cede majority control to Gilberto Duavit, a Malacañang official, and RBS reopened under new ownership, with a new format as GMA-7.

When the smoke cleared, the viewer had channels 2, 9, 13, run by Benedicto; Duavit’s 7; and 4, which belonged to the Ministry of Information. (Pinoy, 97)

When DZXL-TV Channel 9 of CBN was sold to Roberto Benedicto, he changed the name from CBN to KBS, Kanlaon Broadcasting System. So when a fire destroyed the KBS television studios in Pasay, Benedicto's people took over the ABS-CBN studios in Bohol Avenue, Quezon City. His employees moved in; and by August 1973, KBS was broadcasting on all ABS-CBN channels. A year later, Salvador “Buddy” Tan, general manager of KBS, reopened Channel 2 as the Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The two Benedicto stations: KBS Channel 9 and BBC Channel 2 aired government propaganda. In 1980, Channels 2, 9 and 13 moved to the newly-built Broadcast City in Diliman, Quezon City. According to Buddy Tan, the move was based on economy of scale. These stations shared everything from security guards to water to studios.

In 1980, Gregorio Cendaña was named Minister of Information. GTV Channel 4 became known as Maharlika Broadcasting System.

Initially, everything that was to be aired on radio and TV had to be reviewed by the Department of Public Information, which set up the rules and regulations. Through other government agencies, policies on ownership, allocation of frequencies, station distribution, and program standards were promulgated. It allowed self-regulation when broadcast owners formed the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas in 1973 and when a presidential decree created the Broadcast Media Council in 1974. (National, 30)

Before martial law, broadcasting in the Philippines was probably the freest from government control in the world. “Freedom of expression was virtually unrestricted, to the extent that no politician or public figure could hope to escape permanently from mass-media revelations.” (B-Lent, 179)

On paper, monopolies were banned. In practice, however, Marcos allowed them to exist for friends and relatives. Broadcast media was so vulnerable to government dictation and control since its existence depended upon the government’s granting them the Certificates of Public Convenience.

The continued existence of the broadcast companies were put to doubt and this made them high-risk borrowers of banks. Thus, managers were unable to upgrade and update their steadily depreciating equipment. Only the more profitable and perhaps those with more access to the powers-that-be were able to import spare parts and state-of-the-art technology. (National, 30)

All is Well?

One TV spectacular after another proclaimed that all was well in the Philippines --- the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, the 1975 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavy-weight fight, the 1981 visit of Pope John Paul II. (Pinoy, 109)

When Benigno Aquino was assassinated in 1983, it was a small item on television news. During his historic funeral procession, GMA Channel 7 gave ten seconds of airtime for this event. With the assassination of Aquino, the iron grip that the Marcos administration had on television began to slip.

In 1984, Imee Marcos, daughter of Ferdinand Marcos, attempted to takeover GMA Channel 7, just as she did with the Benedictos. However, she was foiled by GMA executives, Menardo Jimenez and Felipe Gozon. Stewart left the Philippines for good as he was utterly disappointed with the Marcos move.