ABS-CBN's Promise: 2022 Election Coverage Will Be Balanced, Fair, Impartial
In a normal world, media companies profit handsomely during elections years. But for embattled media group ABS-CBN, election year 2022 is out of whack, but could potentially be a pivot toward what could be their new normal.
Elections, which comes every three years in the Philippines, have usually been the single biggest event that allows broadcast media companies to rake in billions-worth of political advertisements, particularly in free-to-air TV. That’s the capitalistic muscle and platform ABS-CBN lost when allies of President Duterte denied the renewal of the Lopez-led group’s franchise in 2020.
In the run up to the May 2022 national elections, ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak made a promise: the media group’s coverage during the campaign period and on D-Day itself will be balanced, fair and impartial.
“We will provide continuous and up-to-date national coverage of the elections in a manner that is complete, balanced, and fair,” Katigbak said during the listed media firm’s virtual stockholders meeting on July 29.
While that sounds staid and expected of a media company with one of the biggest news businesses in the country, it’s also a response to its critics.
Lawmakers allied with President Duterte, including an army of social media supporters, have pummeled ABS-CBN executives during the franchise hearings with allegations the media group has been biased. ABS-CBN has denied favoring other politicians and political parties, and has apologized to President Duterte for failing to air his paid political ads during the 2016 national elections.
Katigbak stressed to its stockholders that it is dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in the coming elections. “We are publishing on the ABS-CBN website an updated set of policies governing the network, our talent, and our employees in relation to this national election.
He added: “We have taken extra measures to demonstrate that the network will remain impartial throughout this political process.”
About one-third of ABS-CBN journalists were among the 11,000 who lost their jobs following the shutdown. Some eventually transferred to other networks. Its 12 regional news bureaus, which provided on-the-ground information outside capital Manila but were hardly profitable, were shut.
But for the logistics and newsgathering needs of the 2022 elections, those provincial touchpoints will be revived. “We are engaging former employees from our regional networks to help us with the coverage,” Katigbak said. This will complement their existing network of “Bayan patrollers” or citizen reporters.
Since it went dark, ABS-CBN beefed up its online platforms, and partnered with rivals for blocktime agreements to broadcast entertainment shows, which in the past bankrolled its vast news operations.
Its social media channels rank among the most subscribed and most viewed in the Philippines. Its ABS-CBN News channel has 12.5 million subscribers on YouTube, 22.4 million followers on Facebook, and over 10 million total followers in its several news-related Twitter handles.
Another major strategic initiative has been sealing partnerships outside the country to reach global news consumers. These initiatives sync with the changing viewing preferences of younger news consumers here and abroad. As well, the pandemic fast-tracked the internal digital pivot within the legacy newsroom.
The investments in digital platforms and overseas have yet to bear enough fruits to cover the lost advertisements on TV, still the dominant medium to reach most Filipinos. With the franchise loss came dramatic drops in top and bottom lines: 50 percent decline in revenues to P21.4 billion in 2020, and a net loss of P13.5 billion, a whopping 411.5 percent cut from P2.64 billion in 2019.
“Despite the bleak financial performance last year, we are optimistic that better times will come, the economy will improve our audiences will return the bets we've made on our digital and international businesses will pay off,” the CEO said.