Friday, January 12, 2007

Meat and piety

Television is not my favorite medium.

It’s a bias that got another stroking when I saw the ABS-CBN network’s recent coverage of the Black Nazarene fiesta.

The coverage was exceedingly long and varied. Although there were the familiar footages of heaving and sweating humanity, the network continued with its policy shift of requiring news readers to go out and research the news they reported.

In the heyday of Loren Legarda, Noli de Castro and Korina Sanchez, news anchors were pluperfect studio-based personalities. Their seamless delivery and power suits lent glamour to the news.

By some convoluted logic, personal charisma conferred news credibility. It was as if the news regurgitated by those perfect lips were not just perfect sound bites but readings taken from the Gospel According to TV.

Two years ago, ABS-CBN appointed Maria Ressa as the new head of the News and Current Affairs Group.

Aside from the axing of veteran reporters and producers, as well as a vice president for news, the appointment of Ressa raised expectations that there would be a drastic change in the overriding focus of ABS-CBN’s “TV Patrol” from popularity and ratings to news integrity AND ratings.

It was anticipated that her leadership would steer “TV Patrol” away from the body count—both the mangled and the nubile—and make it compete with GMA network’s “24 Oras.”

The GMA news program’s trademark of issue-driven special reports and enterprise reporting is not the least of the reasons why I regard this as The Other Network.

But being neither Kapamilya (as ABS-CBN diehards call themselves) nor Kapuso (pro-GMA), I regard the remote control as the only real props for penetrating the realities of TV news.

This gadget allows the viewer to change channels and choose the less toxic of TV news fare.

It’s naturally a mini tragedy when a weak battery in the remote control gets our household stuck in either of these two unendurables: the whining drone of GMA’s Mike Enriquez or the interminable plugging of another crass ABS-CBN reality show on primetime news.

However, ABS-CBN’s coverage of the Black Nazarene fiesta was promising enough to keep us from pushing buttons.

At first, the “special report” seemed stamped by the Ressa trademark of news readers undertaking “shoe-leather reporting.”

The term is coined for Mary McGrory, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. To write her 1974 award-winning columns on Watergate, McGrory was everywhere, from courtrooms to congressional hearings.

"I have to see, I have to hear. I'm primitive, I guess. I don't want anyone else doing my listening or watching for me,'' McGrory was quoted by Philip Gailey in his collection of her works.

But as the Black Nazarene special report progressed, it became apparent that, despite the perestroika of the Ressa era, the network is still in thrall to the lure of the meat.

In one feature, the camera tracks reporter Pinky Webb making her first attempt to get close enough to wipe the Nazarene icon.

The camera follows the bodacious reporter attracting a crowd of male followers in the streets. I’m thinking, “shampoo commercial.”

When she lunges to mount the carroza, the camera takes close-ups of her tight fuchsia shirt riding up on hips that are too generous for her waistband.

I’m thinking of the mini skirt-clad Bridget Jones sliding down a fireman’s pole to the waiting lens of her TV cameraman.

I’m also remembering Muslim cleric Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali’s comment on barely covered women, “The uncovered meat is the problem.”

I now know why a network that can locate bystanders with eerie resemblances to news personalities, from Manny Pacquiao to Vice President Noli de Castro, chose not to make a documentary of a day in the life of an actual devotee of the Black Nazarene.

Compared to Webb’s fuchsia shirt, that wouldn’t have made great TV. At its defining moments, television sometimes resembles least the news it’s supposed to purvey. 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Jan. 14, 2007 issue

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