Gabby Lopez on ABS-CBN's 'North Star'

By David Dizon,

Posted at Feb 01 2013 06:48 PM | Updated as of Feb 02 2013 07:15 PM

MANILA - ABS-CBN Chairman Eugenio 'Gabby' Lopez III on Thursday reminded hundreds of communication students from different schools about the role of media in the Philippines 60 years after the birth of Philippine television.

ABS-CBN Chairman Eugenio 'Gabby' Lopez III 

In his speech before the Pinoy Media Congress, Lopez said media is like the truthful child in the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” 

“Media’s role is like that of the child. When everyone else is lying through their teeth and exclaiming how grand the Emperor’s new clothes are, we need media to be like the child who will exclaim for all to hear that the Emperor is in fact, naked,” he said.

“We don’t aim to win friends or even keep them in this business. The role of media as we see it in ABS-CBN is to serve the Filipino,” he added.

ABS-CBN has partnered with the Philippine Association of Communication Educators Foundation (PACE) for the last 8 years in sponsoring the Pinoy Media Congress. This year's theme is "Media: Beyond Information and Education."

In his speech, Lopez confessed to being a “digital migrant” compared to this generation’s “digital natives.”

He admitted that he is in a state of denial after turning 60 last year, and getting his senior citizen’s card.

“I am as old as Philippine Television --- all 60 years of it. I was a kid when the first locally produced black and white television show was aired on a station that was to become today’s ABS-CBN. I was in college when color television broadcasting was born in this country. I was getting my feet wet as a disc jockey in one of ABS-CBN’s radio stations when the network covered the moon landing with the first man walking on the moon,” he said.

Lopez said that like the youth, the media also has a role to play in society, which is “to bring information and entertainment to people in a convenient and cost effective manner.”

He said that while state-owned media has served as tools of oppression, commercial media thrives through the interplay of market forces and gets its reward through excellence in providing information and entertainment.

“We have long recognized our obligation to the public arising from our use of the air lanes, a public resource. This is why successful networks like ABS-CBN spend time and money on news and current affairs. A democracy like ours thrives on information – timely and accurate information. Given the nature of our development, it is also necessary to provide a good interpretation of the significance of unfolding events. That too, is a function we must serve,” he said.

Lopez said ABS-CBN has also sought to educate its audience through the curriculum-based e-learning programs of ABS-CBN Foundation and through the Knowledge Channel of SKY Foundation.

He conceded though that the entertainment side of commercial media tends to reflect current social mores rather than attempts to change them. “Perhaps there should be a more conscious effort to promote positive social values through telenovelas but even here, it ought to be more subtle than many policy makers and academicians want,” he said.

The cost of serving the Filipino

Lopez said working in service of the Filipino captures the essence of ABS-CBN. “The ways and forms of service may change. But our desire, commitment and passion to serve the Filipino will remain. These words are from my father, Eugenio Lopez, Jr. It is our North Star, our constant guide. It defines us and everything we do,” he said.

He said this commitment to service has made the company expand its horizons and take bold stands on public issues, at great risk to personal and corporate survival. He said the commitment also caused misunderstanding with the political powers-that-be.

Lopez reminded the audience of how President Ferdinand Marcos shut down ABS-CBN and its sister media company, The Manila Chronicle, during the martial law years. 

He said that while the 1986 EDSA Revolution ended Marcos’ oppression, ABS-CBN still suffered “when unpopular administrators used their powers to try to make us see things their way.”

“It would have been more financially rewarding and less of a headache to follow the dictates of Malacanang but to do so wouldn’t have been of service to the Filipino,” he said.

He added: “The trust and confidence of our people have given us the power to stand up in defense of our people’s rights against an oppressive government. I confess to be very traditional in this respect… in believing that the most important function of media in a free society is to protect its people from the abuses of government. No one citizen can stand up to an oppressive government but an independent media standing up to be counted and leading the people in political action ensures the preservation of democracy and its institutions.”

Partnering with PNoy

Lopez also took time to praise the changes in the nation under the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III. He said that under Aquino, “I see a nation so different from what it was, just three years ago.”

“I see a nation that is more confident of its direction, more determined of the strategy it is taking and more imbued with the moral conviction of its actions. I see a nation about to break out from the debilitating clutches of the past. I also see a nation divided between the old centers of power and a new civil society fighting hard for much needed social change,” he said.

The ABS-CBN Chairman said he personally supports the President’s economic development programs and efforts to rid the bureaucracy of corruption. He said ABS-CBN is ready to partner with the Aquino administration in promoting good government by identifying backlogs in public service, corruption in government and the waste of public resources.

He admitted though that this does not mean that ABS-CBN will always see things the President’s way.

“There are times when Malacanang will accuse us of sensationalism, unwarranted criticism and negativism. And some of it will be accurate. In the pursuit of ratings, in being a network imbued with a commercial interest, we just like any other media outfit can cross the boundaries. But as some wise man once said: ‘Freedom means having to watch some disgruntled citizen burn your flag down.’ This is not to excuse any excesses but it is to recognize that those very abuses are part and parcel of democracy in our society. It is the price we pay. And the solution is an open and continuing dialogue between government and media,” he said.