The Tagalog Media

by Firth McEachern

This week I shall analyze the exclusion of local languages in media.

First, I start with radio. Why is it that almost all the FM radio stations in Luzon are in Tagalog and English? I visited Pangasinan with my officemates and we excitedly flipped through all the radio frequencies looking for a Pangasinan radio station. Out of 11 stations, not one was in Pangalatok. One might justify the choice of Tagalog because it (or Filipino, to be precise) is the national language, so everyone can understand it.

But aren’t we forgetting the fact that many radio stations around the world are located in places where the language is not universally understood? In Canada, my home country, I can turn on the radio and find English or French FM radio stations, even though I don’t speak French and neither does everyone know English. In England, I can turn on the radio and find FM channels in Arabic, Punjabi, and several other languages besides English, even though English is far more widespread than the others. The majority of the listeners of the other language programs, like the Punjabi and Arabic stations, also understand English, but they CHOOSE to tune into these stations because they LIKE to hear their native tongue. My point is that we should have more options when it comes to FM radio in Luzon. There should be FM radio in local languages, Tagalog, English, and any combination thereof, as found in other countries with diverse populations.

You might ask, “Well, why is it necessary to offer FM stations that use local languages like Iloko or Pangalatok if you can already find them on AM stations?” First, AM stations rarely offer the frequency or modernity of songs that FM stations offer, so are less attractive to young people. Second, many of the smaller languages like Bolinao don’t even have AM radio stations. Thirdly, if there are English FM stations, why can’t there be FM stations in native languages too? The bias for English is perplexing given that the National Achievement Scores in English have hovered around 50% only, so English is not even understood very well anyway!

Television is even less representative of the diversity of Filipinos. Despite the fact that Tagalog and English are second/third languages for 70% of the population, almost all hours of every Filipino channel broadcast in Luzon are in these languages. Typically, only one hour per day is allocated to regional programming on the main GMA and ABS-CBN channels, and these are not even always in the predominant regional language. Unlike GMA, at least ABS-CBN has local TV Patrols in different vernaculars, such as TV Patrol Bicol, TV Patrol Pampanga, and TV Patrol Ilocos. I applaud ABS-CBN for providing such a service, but there are still gaps. For example, I am perplexed by the fact that despite La Union province being 93% Ilocano, we do not have a single second of television in Iloko. The regional broadcast of TV Patrol Northern Luzon, based in Baguio, is in Tagalog. One might say this is because Baguio is mixed, but as the lingua franca of the region—including Baguio—Iloko deserves at least an hour out of 24 hours of Tagalog and English.

The same issue is faced by the provinces of Region II: despite being predominantly Ilocano, TV Patrol Cagayan Valley is only in Tagalog. Iloko is the 3rd largest language in the Philippines, spoken by 10 million people and serving as the lingua franca for no less than 17 provinces, yet ABS-CBN only has one regional TV patrol in Iloko, serving a mere two provinces.

Mind you, the odd media patterns found in Luzon are not the same across the country. In the Visayas and Mindanao there are many TV Patrols, all of which patronize the major regional languages like Cebuano, Chavacano, Waray, and Ilonggo. Furthermore, there are Visayan news channels, game shows, and even telenovelas like “Saranghe”, “Summer Sunshine”, and “Amor Chico.” And as for radio, most of the FM radio stations are in one of the Visayan languages. Why should Northern Luzon be any different? Why do our radio stations shy away from using our languages? The Visayans do not view their language as inferior to English and Tagalog, and rightly so. All people under God should be considered equal, regardless of the political circumstances—and that also applies to cultural artefacts that define such people—like language.

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