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Monday, July 09, 2007

Cheche Lazaro makes a difference through 20 probing years

By Kate V. Pedroso
Last updated 01:51am (Mla time) 07/08/2007

MANILA, Philippines—For veteran broadcast journalist, producer and educator Cecilia “Cheche” Lazaro, this year’s recipient of the Gawad Plaridel Award, the 20-year trip to where she is now was all about focusing on a goal, holding on to beliefs and abiding by personal convictions.

“My life as a communicator reflects my life as an independent producer. It started out as a dream—a wish, if you will—to make a difference,” Lazaro said in a lecture on July 4 before students and faculty members at the Cine Adarna of the University of the Philippines Film Institute.

“In the end, I must say I got much more than I bargained for,” she said.

Lazaro is the fourth recipient of the UP College of Mass Communication’s Gawad Plaridel. The award is given out annually to a Filipino media practitioner who has excelled in print, film, radio, television or the new media.

The driving force behind the first and longest-running investigative journalism TV show, “The Probe Team,” Lazaro was cited for “consistently upholding the highest standards of professionalism and for guarding and promoting integrity in the broadcast industry, where commercial ratings have time and again compromised both the content and form of television shows, including news and current affairs.”

In her lecture, Lazaro discussed the challenges faced by television in the midst of “a changing landscape,” and discussed best practices for media practitioners.

“Today, surveys tell us that TV is now the main source of information, with radio and print trailing behind it. It has also become the most credible,” she said, adding that the findings were “interesting” now that TV has been criticized as being “sensational, arrogant and biased.”

“To be sure, the medium is faced with many problems and challenges because of a changing landscape, and the keen competition that keeps the gatekeepers on their toes to stay alive,” Lazaro said.

She said the “obsession” with ratings was one such problem: “In some cases, it has become the end-all and be-all. When competition was narrowed down to two stations, it took on more prominence and performance trackers kept an eagle eye on the numbers.”

While admitting that ratings were a good indicator of who was watching, she said there was also a downside to this obsession.

“If you get caught in the vortex of a ratings tornado, you end up producing programs and adding elements just to rate, and many good stories can fall by the wayside,” said Lazaro.

“They say that competition keeps us alert and on our toes. While that is certainly a good way to keep the adrenaline pumping, it also pressures us to do things that, under normal circumstances, we would find to be in poor taste,” she said.


Lazaro also commented on the current TV trend of airing “exclusives.”

“We now think in terms of exclusives—our newscasts are punctuated by exclusives. Perhaps again it is time to review what the intrinsic value of an exclusive is and, more importantly, how our choices of exclusives affect the audiences who watch us,” she said.

Lazaro cited as examples the breakup of Filipino entertainment personality Ruffa Gutierrez and her Turkish husband Yilmaz Bektas and a hair-pulling incident, both of which had been highlighted in the news as “exclusives.”

“It may be worthwhile to ask ourselves: What value does hair-pulling have as a news story, aside from the riveting human drama of two women tearing at each other’s hair?” she said, adding:

“Are we doing this just to attract our audience, or keep up with competition? Is there a lesson to be learned?”

These “tabloid TV news stories” are reports that “focused on the details and blew them up,” Lazaro said.

“Like the hair-pulling incident and the Ruffa-Yilmaz story, details were blown up and milked for all [they were] worth. The tabloid news has become the norm,” she said.

Idiotizingthe audience

Remarking on the way news is being delivered on TV, Lazaro said:

“When reading the news, words are heavily punctuated in the same manner that you would announce a major catastrophe. I find it personally difficult to reconcile this mode of delivery with the basic characteristic of television. Because of the intimacy of the medium, you enter into the private spaces of your audience. I say it is a conversation you want to engender, not a lecture, or a speech.”

She noted that TV had been held “responsible for the ‘idiotization’ of our generation.”

Read the rest of this article here.