ABS-CBN Corporation launches its election coverage campaign about a year before election day. But it’s not protocol. Ging Reyes, head of ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs (INCA), says it actually takes the team a year to prepare for the elections.
“It’s all about framing the coverage early on, setting goals and determining what end results you want to see on election day,” she says.
The theme, “Ipanalo ang Pamilyang Pilipino,” for example, took a few months to take shape. It was the product of a workshop, several meetings and numerous iterations, not to mention debates and heated arguments among team members. It directly relates to the aspirations as well as the everyday disappointments of ordinary Filipinos. By focusing on who should be the real winners in the democratic exercise—that is, the Filipino family—ABSCBN aims to help its audiences make informed decisions about their candidates.
“We want our public to discern and make an informed choice on election day. That is the paramount purpose of any election coverage. We do not deploy so many reporters all over the country just to document the event. We want our viewers to really think about the election and to take the exercise of their right to vote seriously. We want them to think in terms of, ‘What do we need to change in our country beginning with ourselves?,’” says Reyes.
Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo (BMPM); effective storytelling through “Kampanyaserye” and “Pamilyang Panalo”; live events and debates, among them “Harapan ng Bise” moderated by Alvin Elchico and Lynda Jumilla on April 17 and the Commission on Elections (Comelec)-sanctioned PiliPinas 2016 presidential town hall debate moderated by Tony Velasquez and Karen Davila on April 24; digital engagement through the Halalan microsite on abs-cbnnews.com; and the marathon coverage on May 9 and following days until a winner is proclaimed.Toward this end, INCA is relying on the five pillars of the #Halalan2016 coverage: citizen involvement through
BMPM training of citizen journalists was held year-round as more and more Bayan Patrollers signed up to provide active coverage of their communities, not only for election- related matters such as improperly-placed campaign posters but also neighborhood issues such as unfinished road projects or hazards like open canals or hanging live electric cables. Since 2007, ABS-CBN has supported the growth of BMPM as a means for ordinary citizens to have a voice and a role in the affairs of the nation.
Sessions on citizen journalism
According to Rowena Paraan, who handles BMPM for INCA, there were 1.4 million registered Bayan Patrollers as of February 2016. In the past year, BMPM held training workshops nationwide, especially reaching out to school campuses, with 42 sessions on citizen journalism conducted and about 13,000 individuals trained. On a typical news day, some 120 reports from pictures to video to plain text are received from Bayan Patrollers. While not all of them make it to TV news programs, most of them get referred to authorities for action or at least to get a reply.
“Kampanyaserye” formed part of the voter education campaign of ABS-CBN, providing a different perspective to elections issues. It put a spotlight on national and local candidates, doing the rounds of provinces, cities and municipalities where there are feuding candidates, where there are related parties running for different posts or perhaps where incumbents are running unopposed. Whenever possible, the team does a detailed comparison among candidate platforms, highlighting where they differ and where they are similar.
Opportunity to make change possible
“We treat elections not just as a news event, but always as an opportunity to make change possible, to inform and educate, to inspire and influence. There is always something unique that happens in every election. So we have to plan and conceptualize in advance to make sure all bases are covered. You have to immerse yourself in the idea, make the objectives of the campaign and the coverage clear to everybody. We continuously upgrade the standards of our programs and the content in different platforms to reach the widest audience possible,” says Reyes.
This conscious effort to provide relevant information to audiences has made ABS-CBN a strong favorite among news consumers.
Its unofficial debate for vice presidential candidates had 20x more viewers than the Comelec- sanctioned debate which aired on CNN Philippines. According to Kantar Media, it recorded a national TV rating of 21.4%, becoming the most viewed program in all territories, including in Mega Manila where it garnered a 17.4% rating.
40.6% national TV rating
The last leg of PiliPinas Debates 2016, the ABS-CBN Manila Bulletin presidential debate, made an even bigger mark with a 40.6% national TV rating and generating over 1.4 million tweets on Twitter.
The five pillars of the election coverage stand on three essential foundations: news gathering, which is the lifeblood of news and makes it necessary for reporters to be assigned to the campaigns of each national candidate; news systems and technology, which must be cost-efficient and sufficiently reliable to enable news to be broadcast to viewers or to be posted on websites and social media; and research and analysis, which provides in-depth content to stimulate thought and engage with audiences who want to go beyond the headlines.
In an age ruled by the internet and mobile data, ABSCBN and similar organizations are expected to put the news out instantly—mobile first, then the web, even before it’s time for the hourly newsbreak on cable and the regular free-to- air channels.
“That is what has changed in our industry. We have to move very fast because that is the trend. We also have to think about the business side of it. We must be in touch with global trends, and be aware of how far such trends apply to our domestic audiences,” Reyes says.
In this way, the INCA team not only elevates the discussion of news events, but shows how Filipino families get affected by global developments, for example climate change, US politics and European terrorist attacks, right in their own homes.
“We are always mindful of, and committed to the independence we exercise in the News Division’s editorial decisions and endeavors. But in all our major projects, we’ve always enjoyed the support and assistance of other divisions in ABS-CBN and the rest of the Lopez Group. In most cases, the Integrated News team was the lead but we relied on help from TOD, Entertainment Production, Marketing, CCM, DMD, Finance, HR, Corporate Services, Security and Legal— everyone had their share and input. That’s what made our two debates succeed and that’s what will make our Halalan coverage soar to even greater heights,” Reyes concludes. (Story/Photos by: Carla Paras-Sison)