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ABS-CBN News defends airing of Chinese newscast, but media analyst says deal is 'very problematic'

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Apr 15, 2021 5:21 pm Updated Apr 16, 2021 4:50 pm

The chief of ABS-CBN News has defended the network’s move to allow the airing of a Chinese newscast against criticisms that the channel will be used for Chinese propaganda, but a media analyst said that the deal is “very problematic.”

The issue stems from ABS-CBN News Channel’s (ANC) blocktime agreement with Chinese Filipino company Horizon of the Sun Communications Inc. to air its daily Chinese newscast.

The show is called Chinatown News TV where news stories are mainly told in Mandarin with English subtitles, though hosts also speak a bit of English and Filipino in some portions. The first episode aired April 12.

ANC’s caption for the April 13 episode of Chinatown News TV posted on its Facebook page said the newscast “aims to deliver concise and factual headlines both locally and globally, in a language medium that addresses the Filipino-Chinese community.”

“Your Filiipino-Chinese newscast for the Filipino-Chinese community,” the caption stated.

A disclaimer was also shown before the show went on air.

“The views and opinions expressed in the following program are those of the program anchors and producers and do not necessarily reflect the policies and position of this network,” the statement, which flashed before the show’s opening billboard, stated.

Before going to ANC, the newscast initially aired on the Iglesia ni Cristo-owned network Net25 and state-run network IBC 13 as Chinese News TV.

After Rappler broke the story, a number of Filipinos expressed skeptical and hostile sentiments online, mainly disdaining the perceived acquiescence of the network to be used for Chinese propaganda. It was also pointed out that the company behind the newscast also produced the music video “Iisang Dagat” released in April, which was supposedly a tribute for COVID-19 frontliners but was widely panned as propaganda for China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Emotions ran high, especially as the deal to carry the newscast comes on the wake of a story by ABS-CBN’s Chiara Zambrano about being chased off by Chinese missile ships within the West Philippine Sea.

Some tagged the network's decision to allow the airing of Chinatown TV as disappointing.

But some said such negative notions were Sinophobic in nature.

One netizen, for instance, defended the airing of the program. "The #ABSCBNTutaNgChina trend shows how sinophobic the 3% is. CNTV is run by Chinoys. They deserve to have a voice in the country. The more we other them, the more we push them inside their own bubble. Airing CNTV is one of the best decisions ABS-CBN made in recent years," the Twitter user said

Inside the network, some also bristled over how the network's decision quickly drew flak online.

"I feel disappointed that the public is so quick to 'cancel' the organization that's just doing its best to survive. While I am one with Filipinos who only wish to defend our sovereignty, I also can't help but acknowledge that this business decision would help put food on my and the rest of my colleagues' tables. Day in day out, I know the hard work each of us puts in to make sure the news we deliver are truthful, accurate, and fair. So, if ANC entered into this blocktime agreement then I am fairly confident, it will go through the same rigorous editorial process," said an ABS-CBN News staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of sparking a social media backlash.

Editorial control
Yesterday, April 14, ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs chief Ging Reyes defended and explained the Chinatown News TV partnership with ABS-CBN.

“I understand the concerns on Chinese incursions in the West Ph sea & many other issues related to the country’s relations with China.  ABS-CBN News has vigorously covered these issues, in our pursuit of truth and public enlightenment. But we resist discrimination against any race or ethnicity,” she said.

Reyes said that the airing of the Chinese language program on ANC “should not be equated with the intrusions in the West Philippine Sea, adding that Chinatown News is “produced by fellow Filipinos who belong to the Filipino-Chinese community.”

“They are part of Philippine society. Rather than belittle their attempt to provide a service to their local community, it’s time we considered embracing the diversity of this land we all call home,” she said.

Reyes also said ABS-CBN still has “editorial control over their content, provide national news stories & ensure accuracy of the translation from Mandarin to English subtitles.”

Jely Galang, an assistant history professor at the University of the Philippines, said Filipinos conflating China as a nation state, China as it pertains to its mainland citizens, and China as it pertains to the local and diverse Chinese Filipino community has been a longstanding issue.

"Hindi nakikita ng karamihan sa Pinoys ang distinction," said Galang. "Kaya naiipit din ang Tsinoy community."

Hindi nakikita ng karamihan sa Pinoys ang distinction. Kaya naiipit ang Tsinoy community.

But as regards to having a Mandarin newscast catering to Tsinoys, a community leader of the local Chinese Filipino community said "there is no vacuum of information now regarding China" that the show may address for them.

"Mabilis ang info ng mga Chinese speaking Tsinoys from different Chinese sources," said the source in the Tsinoy community, who declined to be named for fear of attracting controversy.

The Chinese Filipino community also largely speaks Hokkien, which is the language from Southern Fujian where almost 90% of Chinese migrants in the Philippines came from, and less so Mandarin.

"I think medyo wrong timing din because of the intensified Sinophobia at this time," the source added.

In an SWS survey done in July last year, trust in China, which is usually the lowest compared to the other major powers, further wilted to “bad” from “poor” after net trust rating dropped by nine points from -27 to -36.

Luis V. Teodoro, board trustee of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said Chinatown TV "has a right to air their advocacy."

"They have an advocacy and there is room for journalism for advocacy and that is ok. Most news organizations have an advocacy, although they won't admit it," Teodoro said.

"But the best advocacy is factually based, because if it is not, then it should be abandoned because the primary responsibility of media is respect for that fact. So if their advocacy is not based on facts, then that can be questioned," Teodoro added.

The more knowledgeable part of the media audience will become very skeptical of ABS-CBN and it will lose the capital that it has gained over the past few years.

Teodoro said the arrangement may become problematic and confusing for viewers on issues like the West Philippine Sea. While ABS-CBN has reported on the West Philippine Sea issue by advocating the Philippine position of sovereignty over the disputed waters, the company behind Chinatown TV has been known to make propaganda in favor of the Chinese side that maintains specious claims over the area. This possible Jekyll and Hyde persona of one channel may be problematic and dent the network's reputation.

"Malaki ang impact niyan sa credibility ng ABS-CBN among those who are able to discern the difference between facts and non-facts, but there will also be confusion among those who will not be able to do that. The more knowledgeable part of the media audience will become very skeptical of ABS-CBN, it will lose the capital that it has gained over the past few years," said Teodoro.

"This becomes very problematic in terms of journalism." 

by Bim Santos and Chuck Smith