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The Impact of the Critical Development of the Internet in the Current State of Philippine and Global Media

Midterm paper for my Political Economy of Media class

The Philippine media and global media in the Information Age are clearly evolving towards the critical development of the Internet, forcing existing media systems to integrate with the world wide web. Cyberspace has gone a long way since its milestones in the 1990s when a household that could afford Internet service back then primarily used the email platform and chat messaging services as alternative forms of communication, alongside the utilization of search engines for easier access to information. Today, the consumption of online content has become ingrained in the lives of people and institutions – the most personal endeavors of an individual (mainly through social media and entertainment apps), from small-scale businesses to multinational corporations, advocacy work, religious congregations, and political movements.

As a powerful medium revolutionizing communication processes, business operations, and cultural exchanges across the globe, it is not a surprise that corporate interest to exploit the nooks and cranny of the online platform becomes a priority. This prompted companies to utilize advertising and other means to benefit from the use of online content. At times, the platform may not directly aim for monetary success, but it gets used as a vehicle for power, control, and influence in various political, cultural, moral, and religious undertakings. 

Internet Advertising

According to the “Critical Political Economy of the Media: An Introduction” by Jonathan Hardy, back in the 1990s, the founders of Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin “initially believed that good search engines would allow consumers to find what they wanted without the need for advertising.” They also argued that advertising would make search engines “inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of consumers.” Fast forward to the present time, Google is one of the top tech giants largely benefiting from the advertising market in the world wide web. The commodification of the Internet became an inevitable part of technological development, requiring various resources to fuel the progress of the technology. As how Vincent Mosco put it in his book “The Political Economy of Communication,” “Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange.” He also explained the concept of spatialization being “the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with, among other things, mass media and communication technologies.” In the case of the Internet, it overcame distance by bringing information with a click of a mouse or a tap on the screen. Indeed, communication easily went global with the use of cyberspace. Mosco also described the concept of structuration as “the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race.” Given the power of today’s social media influencing people’s take on viral posts and even as far as national elections and international politics, the Internet has undoubtedly changed the landscape of mass communication – making it simultaneously personal and global in scope.

The Case of Media Ownership in the Philippines

Media outlets across the world are dominated by big corporations. According to “The Political Economies of Media: The Transformation of the Global Media Industries” by Dwayne Winseck and Dal Yong Jin, “Media production has been increasingly commandeered by large corporations and moulded to their interests and strategies.” Here, privatization through sale of public assets to private investors and liberalization of previous public monopolies and introducing them to market competition, alongside the continuing squeeze on publicly funded cultural institutions, started dominating the playing field. The big players want to ensure their cross-media presence to keep their power and influence. This is quite apparent in different countries, including the Philippines. Cross-platform success is a priority by big media companies. The “kings of media” in the country widely use their machineries to ensure they also dominate the online platform.

ABS-CBN continues to push for its iWant online platform by allotting abundant resources to produce original content similar to Netflix’s system, despite the fact that the company is not yet earning profit from it, according to some personal conversations I had with ABS-CBN executives. The company also owns Sky Cable, which is one of the country’s major Internet service providers. Top Philippine newspapers including the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star are also the top online news sites in the country, as reported by Reporters Without Borders. Business and media tycoon Manny Pangilinan who has shares in major dailies, a TV network, and the country’s dominant telephone and broadband provider PLDT controls much of the Internet service provider market and online infrastructure of the country. PLDT charges other providers for traffic through its network, resulting to consumers paying exorbitant fees despite the slow Internet service.

The Case of Jeepney Modernization

The market demand for what sells in different media platforms continue to thrive on trivial, entertaining, sensational, and controversial topics. Playing the victim’s card is often used for drama and ratings. One example is the coverage of the current issue on the modernization of public transportation. Reports about the transport strike by the jeepney drivers focused on the initiative being anti-poor. This has been the case even for past administrations whenever there would be a plan to modernize public utility vehicles (PUVs) – the government always took a step back. Raising the standards of public transport, especially in the case of the free-for-all jeepney ownership, means providing safe and efficient transport system, yet media reports simply highlight the trivial statements from public officials that won’t help in finding solutions to the problem. Instead of focusing on raising concerns about the boundary system and the lack of safety measures in current jeepney operations, imposing official stops and terminals for PUVs, and strictly regulating and limiting the current multiple public utility franchises that congest highways, Filipinos are left with controversial, and at some point, dramatic and/or entertaining statements reported in the media. Sensational words sprout like mushroom as memes and funny posts, particularly in social media.

The government’s take on the stalled modernization of jeepneys turns out as a conundrum, since in a capitalist system, jeepney operations don’t contribute much to the country’s economy compared to if the franchises would go through the bidding process where large companies would be able to provide better operations. The current administration even cracked down on ride-hailing apps like Uber and Grab, despite initially having no law allowing them to be regulated. The LTFRB eventually invented rules for regulation and the two major players cooperated to ensure they remain dominant in the Transport Network Vehicle Service (TNVS) business, while other start-ups would find it hard to get a foothold because of the steep requirements. In no time, Grab and Uber “merged” and Grab now has a monopoly.

Jeepney modernization will provide good economic opportunities for businesses as they push for energy efficient vehicles with GPS and WiFi capabilities, alongside imposing consolidated payment schemes for all public transportation options. Yet, looking at it with a difference lens, the political impact of the modernization process would probably be the reason for the government’s lack of action. More votes come from the lower demographics. It is not really about the lobby – politicians do not want to lose the “jeepney vote.”

The Case of the Resurgence of Vaccine-preventable Diseases 

News reports and social media posts about the Dengvaxia scandal has caused fearmongering across the country since it broke out in late 2017. The measles epidemic that started in January 2019, an unlikely season to have a measles outbreak, reignited a connection to the Dengvaxia incident as TV, radio, print, and online reports both in Philippine and international media outlets widely covered the outbreak, often mentioning the former Dengvaxia reports in their news articles. There were limited reports about the facts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH), which debunked the theory that the cause of the said measles epidemic was the Dengvaxia scare. What the media reported and what the facts provided were not the same. According to the DOH survey document covering January to March 2018, the main reason children were not vaccinated for measles was due to parents being too busy to bring their kids for immunization. And while the Dengvaxia scare may have added to the fire, it was not in the top 4 reasons why children were not vaccinated. Based on the downloadable DOH document available online, the top 4 reasons were: 1) Mother was busy; 2) Child not eligible for vaccination; 3) Child was sick; 4) Forgot the schedule. Moreover, the WHO provided downloadable statistics on measles cases in the country covering up to Oct. 22, 2018. The online document stated there were 2,428 cases in 2017, 716 cases in 2016, 619 cases in 2015, 58,848 cases in 2014, and 2,920 cases in 2013. This showed the cyclical nature of measles cases in the country. The 2014 outbreak was years before the Dengvaxia scandal, and it prompted the government to implement an aggressive campaign against measles. In the case of the 2019 measles outbreak, having a more objective look at what the WHO and DOH facts said compared to what the media reported would have delivered better public service to Filipino families. But instead, instigating fear sold better in media, as usual. 

An objective call to action on how to address the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases requires political will. Funds for making strategic press releases and pushing for nationwide information campaign should be prioritized so that people are well-informed about immunization, which the parents of the current generation of children had during their own time as children. Unfortunately, media outlets prefer to cover not the objective details but the meme-savvy statements of public officials, as they vilify vaccines even without supporting facts. Currently, there is a proposition to impose a “no vaccination, no enrollment policy” in the country, suggesting mandatory vaccination in schools for the main purpose of herd immunity. Children unable to get vaccinated due to health reasons or family’s personal beliefs may still avail of possible exemptions and consider the option for homeschooling. Considering the political landscape of the country, this proposed policy would most likely not push through because it is not that controversial and it will not bring in votes. Legislators don’t want to lose votes from families who think vaccines put their children in danger. Possibly, if the epidemic worsens, that’s the only time that the “reactionary” Filipino government will act on a mandatory vaccination policy. By that time, people would find children becoming victims of natural selection when science already gave the world a means to prevent diseases like measles and polio.

The Case of a Media Conglomerates’ Market Domination

The Walt Disney Company had humble beginnings as a relatively small, family-run entertainment business. Now, this multinational media conglomerate continues to buy out big Hollywood studios and further expand its global reach by making its own Netflix-like streaming platform Disney+. It owns some of the biggest movie franchises in Hollywood including the Marvel superhero movies and the “Star Wars” canon. As reported in Winseck and Dal’s “The Political Economies of Media: The Transformation of the Global Media Industries,” the Disney Corporation already dominates Hollywood as “it owns the major movie studios Walt Disney Pictures, Miramax, Pixar Animation, and Touchstone Pictures and television channels available in 190 countries, including the Disney Channel, ABC networks, ESPN, SOAPNet, Lifetime (37.5 percent), Jetix (Latin America and Europe), SuperRTL (Europe), and Hungama (India).” Just this year, Disney also acquired 21st Century Fox. It also maintains theme parks, resorts, and cruise lines, as well as merchandise items ranging from books to home decor. Winseck and Dal also noted that global communications business conglomerates such as Disney continue to enjoy “increased size, market concentration, and vertical and horizontal integration.” Moreover, they explained how corporations dominate the cultural landscape in two ways: “Firstly, an increasing proportion of cultural production is directly accounted for by major conglomerates with interests in a range of sectors, from newspapers and magazines to television, film, music and leisure goods and services. Secondly, corporations that are not directly involved in the cultural industries as producers can exercise considerable control over the direction of cultural activity through their role as advertisers and sponsors.” The further expansion and diversification of Disney, just like many other entertainment and media giants across the globe, show how the capitalist system thrives in cross-platform development.

With so much power wielded by online media, it is not a surprise that Disney demands for more control of the Internet platform’s various facets. As the Internet maintains its grip as a vital technological and business resource, Hardy in his book “Critical Political Economy of the Media: An Introduction” cited the concerns raised in the development of online media where the Internet has been “allowed to develop according to corporate interests as a commercial medium with minimal consideration of public interest, democratic accountability or supervision. The tremendous promise of the digital revolution has been compromised by capitalist appropriation and development of the Internet.” Entertainment remains strongly anchored in advertising and influencing pop culture so that consumers become willing (or brainwashed) victims of trends, as dictated by the strategic elements infused in Hollywood films, pop music, fashion magazines, and social media. Master plans in bringing cultural products to the public breathe more life to consumerism, as seen in the public’s consumption of Disney products and services. Manufactured consent, as presented by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” argued that those in power manipulate the public by effectively using media through entertainment and distraction to ultimately serve their interests. Without concern for social responsibility and civic duty, corporations shape politics and economics through media, while also using various modalities to change public opinion and interests and even allowing populist politicians to rise to power. 

The Case of the Proliferation of Fake News

Decades ago, some people expressed that the cause of collective ignorance was the lack of access to information. Presently, the Internet Age would prove otherwise. The proliferation of fake news continues to move and shake the society’s communication dynamics. The success of fake news in websites and blogs initially led to the alarming phenomenon of disinformation epidemy. Creating fake news sites became very profitable because of funds coming from big corporations that mainly used them for propaganda and attacks to individuals and institutions that were against them. Meanwhile, tracking down countless fake news sites turned out the opposite because hunting them down wouldn’t have much potential as a business endeavor.

As expected, the power of fake news sites encouraged more technological innovations. In February 2019, Bloomberg reported about the Elon Musk-funded company OpenAI’s development of an artificial intelligence (AI) software with the ability to automatically produce fake news stories with minimal resource in a matter of seconds. Although still currently in development, initial tests showed how an AI-written news article became a robotic undertaking, but with the quality expected from a professional online writer. This clearly becomes an inevitable global threat, instigating fear and confusion because of the challenge of fact-checking the web articles of the future. CNBC also reported how the technique called “deepfake” led to the Deepfake AI technology where any face in an existing video/s and/or photo/s can be partly or fully changed – and it can even go as far as changing voices and statements in a video or create a video out of photos. This makes it a great tool in creating fake news and malicious hoaxes including stealing a person’s identity, spreading fake celebrity pornographic videos, promoting videos that wrongly accuse people of crimes, ruining a person’s credibility, and causing religious and geopolitical turmoil. Combating the dangers of fake news and the technology empowering it clearly requires regulation and legislation. However, the future of responsibly countering its further development seems bleak considering how those in power will ensure that any form of regulation or legislation in the use of AI technology in fake news production should ultimately benefit them.

Conclusion

Political economy, as stated in “Fundamentals of Political Economy” by Raymond Lotta, requires people to enter certain mutual relations in order to engage in production. He explained how isolated individuals are unable to “enter into definite connections and relations with one another,” which prevents them from engaging in social connections and relations that allow production to take place. In the case of media being a communication channel, it is really a challenge to aim for the common good when the powerful and influential ones take charge. It is no secret that the top media companies around the world are owned and/or controlled by the ruling elite. Mergers and buyouts of both established businesses and start-ups continue to fuel their expansion. Indeed, political economy remains crucial in determining how media will work in their favor.

Having dramatically changed the landscape of how people across the globe communicate, the dominance of the Internet stems from its reach being both personal and global in its function all at once. Online content and web services carry on as easily accessible by the general public, but at the expense of privacy and knowingly or unknowingly giving away personal information to serve corporate interests. Capitalists widely utilize the power of advertising and branded content to deliver as much information as possible to targeted individuals and groups, while at the same time, acquire as much data as possible from them as well. The lenient regulations of the Internet both in the Philippines and abroad, as compared to the stricter regulations imposed in traditional media, often promote abuse and lack of accountability from content creators. Those with power and influence productively use information and disinformation to take advantage of Internet consumers, especially those who lack the literacy in deciphering what’s true, what’s manipulative, and what’s fake. Entertainment and distraction help pacify people around the world to be content of the current state of affairs amidst critical issues that need to be addressed. 

Works Cited:

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Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.
https://www.riannehillsoriano.com

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