Kids & violence on TV

By Karol Ilagan
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

TV REMAINS the major source of information and entertainment among Filipinos even as watching content via digital platforms has risen in the last two years among those with Internet access.

Nielsen’s TV Audience Measurement, released in December 2015, shows that Filipinos watch TV for 33 hours per week, or a daily average of nearly five hours. Nielsen said viewers steadily watch traditional TV throughout the day, reaching its usual peak during the primetime hours at night.

A 2015 survey, meanwhile, found that Filipino children generally watch TV beyond the recommended maximum of two hours a day. The research, conducted by the National Council for Children’s Television (NCCT), says that children watch close to three hours of TV a day on weekdays and six hours on weekends.

The NCCT survey does not include the level of violence children see on TV, but it cites a 2001 study by the Philippine Children’s Television Foundation, which found that half of TV programs in the Philippines contain violence. That study says that at the time its research was conducted, viewers were seeing one violent incident on TV every 10 minutes, or an average of 6.2 incidents per hour.

In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement on media violence, stressing that exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, poses a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. According to AAP, extensive research evidence indicates that “media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.”

For sure, violence is no longer uncommon in TV dramas, movies, and video games. Yet unlike these, those shown in news reports – whether on TV, print, or online – are real and no longer vicarious, points out developmental psychologist Dr. Liane Peña Alampay. In fact, the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence could be anyone’s relative or neighbor.

Public-affairs shows that feature news-related events are rated and monitored by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). But newscasts such as GMA’s “24 Oras” and ABS-CBN’s “TV Patrol” are exempted from the system because the review board does not cover straight-news reporting.

The MTRCB rates television content into three categories. These ratings, which appear on screen right before the start of a show or program, serve as guide for parents supervising their children’s TV viewing.

Programs classified as “General Patronage” are suitable for all ages. “Parental Guidance” programs meanwhile may contain some adult material that children may be allowed to watch as long as this is done under the guidance of an adult. “Strong Parental Guidance” shows require more vigilant supervision from parents because these may contain a more serious subject.

Yet even outside of news programs, these advisories are not always followed in most Filipino households. For instance, the NCCT study found that for every 10 children who said they received guidance from their parents or guardians, only three said it was “always” while four said it was “often” and three said it was “seldom.” About eight percent of the respondents said they received no guidance at all.

The study, however, does not cover the quality of guidance received by the child from his or her parents or guardian. “Guidance” may range from mere parental presence while the children watch TV to an explanation from a parent or guardian about the material being watched.

More than a third of the respondents in NCCT’s study also said they have their own TV sets in their bedrooms. Only 10 percent of the respondents said that oftentimes, they have no say on which programs to watch because it is their parents or guardian who chooses which program they can view. More than a third of the children, though, said they had sole control of which shows to watch most of the time.

Desideria ‘Daisy’ Atienza of the NCCT Secretariat concedes that the Council has a major role in protecting children from the possible harmful effects of TV. Created in 1997 through Republic Act No. 8370 or the Children’s Television Act, NCCT was originally under the Office of the President before it was transferred to the Department of Education in May 2003. Among other things, the Council is mandated to promote the production and broadcast of children’s and child-friendly TV programs.

In 2012 or 15 years after it was created, NCCT finally came up with its implementing rules and regulations. The rules were deemed key for Section 9 of the Children’s Television of Act of 1997, which requires broadcast networks to devote at least 15 percent of their daily airtime to child-friendly shows.

NCCT is still finalizing its standards for Child-Friendly TV (CFTV), which will be the basis of the minimum 15-percent daily airtime requirement for TV networks. The standards once approved will then be submitted to TV networks.

Atienza says the current draft does not cover how the killings of drug suspects are shown on TV, but the matter can also be taken up. And while NCCT does not have regulatory powers, it may be invited by MTRCB to participate in the latter’s adjudication process, in cases where a complaint is filed against a certain material seen on TV.

Atienza says a Council representative serves as a resource person to give advice on matters involving children as far as NCCT’s mandate is concerned. But she also says that TV networks and parents share the burden of responsibility for what children end up watching and how they eventually process it. — PCIJ, September 2016