Transforming Network Infrastructure Industry News

[February 11, 2006]

'Wowowee' tragedy

(Philippine Daily Inquirer Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)A MEDIA ORGANIZATION SCORES POINTS WHEN IT REPORTS NEWS AHEAD of the others. ABS-CBN had the opportunity to report way ahead of its competitors the stampede that killed 71 people and injured hundreds at the PhilSports Arena (formerly Ultra) in Pasig City on Feb. 4, the first anniversary of its TV show "Wowowee."

It was the kind of news that the network would rather not report on immediately. The network's radio station let a couple of hours pass before announcing to the world that something bad had happened at the PhilSports Arena, said Interior Undersecretary Marius Corpus, head of the task force that investigated the tragedy.

Instead of calling ambulances or the police first, the staff of "Wowowee" contacted ABS-CBN management, costing emergency workers precious minutes that could have saved lives, according to Corpus.

The tragedy showed the extent to which the poor would go-staying for days in the streets without portalets or beds-so they could get a crack at winning prizes (P1 million in cash, house and lot, two tricyles, two taxis and one jeepney) that would help them escape poverty.

The stampede also highlighted the TV show's gimmicks aimed at attracting a huge audience and at ratcheting up its ratings. However, ABS-CBN considers the show a "public service" in which participants can win prizes that can start a livelihood and in which viewers from abroad can reach out and help fellow Filipinos.

TV show rebuilds

By Leah Salterio

DESOLATION IS THE FIRST WORD one thinks of when entering the "Wowowee" offices and studio, these scant few days after the tragic stampede at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.

Whereas Wowowee's home, Studio 3, and the adjoining Wowowee staff room are usually buzzing with activity once lunchtime hits, the entire place is now quiet. Even mournful.


Where there were once raucous cheers and bouncy music, there is now the sound of silence-the silence of reflection and soul searching for the Wowowee's staff, crew and stars-and an entire network itself dealing with the aftermath of a tragic weekend that claimed 71 lives and injured hundreds.

What fans and sympathizers of the show are concerned about is the fact, now in danger of being forgotten, that in the year since the show started, and up until the stampede, "Wowowee" had indubitably done a lot of good in uplifting the lives of the people it touched.

From pangkabuhayan packages that seek to kickstart livelihoods to cash prizes that average P3 million to P4 million per month, "Wowowee" had looked out for the people in dire need who vied for slots in Wowowee's best-known segments, "Willie of Fortune" and "Pera o Bayong." [See Willie's games].

"We have always seen "Wowowee" as a show for the people, even in the conceptualization stage," says "Wowowee" production head Marilou Almaden. "It had always been meant as a show where people didn't just play for cash and prizes, but as a place where they can participate."

Helping hand

Almaden staunchly denies the charge that "Wowowee" promoted mendicancy. "While we had games of luck, our participants certainly weren't beggars-but they, like many of our countrymen, can always use a helping hand.

"Where it was originally a game show, "Wowowee" became something that our fans had ownership of. Something like the segment where we give dollars to audience members who tell us jokes-we had fans from overseas who sent money spontaneously. We never solicited any of that. What happened is that we built this community of viewers and participants, which evolved to become public service-a place where even viewers from here and abroad can reach out and help their fellow Filipinos. And it's that spirit that needs to be remembered, I think."

Time to heal

With the entire network still reeling from the fallout from the past weekend, Almaden says that the men and women of "Wowowee" are focused on what most of the country wants-a chance and time to heal.

"Over the past year we've been on air, we've constantly gotten feedback from our viewers to the effect that when they see reports on our country in the media, it looks like the Philippines is always chaotic. But when they watch 'Wowowee,' they see that that isn't always the case. They have a place where people can laugh, enjoy themselves, and help each other at the same time. We're sure it will take time, but we are hopeful our audience can find themselves comfortable with the thought of being with 'Wowowee' again."

(Salterio is an ABS-CBN corporate public relations director.)

A time to grieve, a time to act

By Danilo Araa Arao

THE STAMPEDE OUTSIDE THE PhilSports Arena on Feb. 4 could be used by ABS-CBN and other broadcast networks to seriously rethink their entertainment programs' orientation. They should provide quality entertainment in the near future, a radical departure from current noontime and early afternoon shows that viewers have grown accustomed to.

For the families of the 71 who died and around 500 who were injured in the so-called "Wowowee" tragedy, this is an opportunity to organize themselves into a group that does not only call for justice but also serves as a venue for media advocacy to demand, among others, quality entertainment.

Development by lottery

Host Willie Revillame argues that "Wowowee" is helping the government provide a better life for the poor. While the intention may sound noble, the show ends up promoting, albeit unconsciously, "development by lottery." The show unwittingly develops a mentality that great things can happen to those who are lucky, especially if one were to analyze the mechanics of its games like "Willie of Fortune" and "Pera o Bayong."

In any case, it is not the mass media's primary responsibility to address the government's shortcomings. Instead, mass media should help in shaping public opinion. In the context of quality entertainment, this could be in the form of political satire or game shows that can make viewers reflect on their situation. Quality entertainment, after all, seeks to develop thinking audiences, not so-called couch potatoes.

Revillame stresses that his show does not exploit the people's poverty. A cursory analysis of the show's ratings and selected socioeconomic data, however, reveals that it mainly caters to those who are impoverished and that it is very dependent on support from them.

Poverty and ratings

In its first episode on Feb. 5, 2005, 18.8 percent of households in Metro Manila, Rizal and parts of Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan were tuned in to "Wowowee," based on AGB Nielsen Media Research's average minute rating (AMR) data. From Feb. 5 to Dec. 31 last year, an extrapolation of data from AGB Nielsen Media Research would show that Wowowee's average number of viewers per minute of airing was around 620,000 households. Twenty-six percent belonged to the C2 class and 62 percent to the D and E classes.

According to John Pateman's paper "Public Libraries and Social Class," C2 refers to skilled working class; D, semi-skilled and unskilled working class; and E, residual and those at lowest levels of subsistence.

Eighty-eight percent of Wowowee's viewers, therefore, are from the working class. They are apparently attracted to the show's P1-million grand prize. In Wowowee's aborted first anniversary celebration, selected contestants also stood to win a house and lot, taxi and jeepney, as well as other cash prizes ranging from P5,000 to P50,000.

That people started lining up as early as Jan. 30 does not come as a surprise. Given the high cost of living, even P5,000 is a big help in providing for the needs of a family, especially if parents have low-paying jobs or no jobs at all.

The government's Labor Force Survey in October 2005 showed that 2.6 million Filipinos were unemployed while 21.2 million were underemployed. The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research claims that 350 Filipinos lose their jobs every day.

Having a job and earning minimum wage, however, does not mean that one can already provide for his or her family's needs.

The daily minimum wage for nonagricultural areas currently ranges from P180 (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM) to P325 (National Capital Region or NCR), according to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC).

Based on NWPC's family living wage data in December 2005, a family of six in the NCR needs P690 to meet food and nonfood requirements in one day. It gets worse in the ARMM as a family of six there needs P872. Clearly, the minimum wage is not enough to meet a family's living requirements, even if both parents earn it.

Responsibility to viewers

These selected socioeconomic data serve to quantify the people's unrewarding toil and to justify Wowowee's audience profile. Unless there is a qualitative change in the poor people's daily grind, one can expect a wide following for "Wowowee" and other television shows that promise a quick ticket out of poverty. This explains why cause-oriented groups stressed that the government was responsible for the people's desperation that resulted in the stampede.

The "Wowowee" tragedy, therefore, should be a time for the people, led by the victims and their families, not just to call for justice but also to engage in media advocacy. They can start by demanding quality entertainment from ABS-CBN and other broadcast networks. The latter's management should heed this much-delayed call, putting the ratings war behind and its responsibility to its viewers forward.

(Arao is chair of the Department of Journalism in the College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines.)

What's a ticket worth?

By Dr. Francisco Nemenzo

ORDERING AN INVESTIGAtion of the "Wowowee" tragedy is the standard response of an inutile government. Everybody who has anything to do with the tragedy is ready with excuses, assisted by smart lawyers. It is doubtful if the investigators and government prosecutors will be able to pin down responsibility for the incident, especially if the findings tend to implicate corporate and government executives and popular show biz personalities. Like all other investigations in the past, it will produce an inconclusive report that raises more questions than determine culpability. Far from rendering justice, the courts, as in the past, will most likely penalize the small fry and exonerate the big fish.

What makes the recent incident utterly disgusting is the cynical exploitation of the psychosocial consequences of poverty to generate profits for the media lords and the big advertisers. Television host Willie Revillame says his program is meant to help people. But raising hopes of instant prosperity among those who don't have enough to eat will only ease the poverty of a few lucky ones. The total value of the proffered prizes is a small fraction of what the television company has earned in marketing profits.

The victims of "Wowowee" are not only the 71 who died and the hundreds injured but all those who lined up for three days in the hope of winning the goodies Revillame promised to dole out. The victims also include the hundreds of thousands who watch his show to be entertained and deluded.


The poor, the elderly and the jobless are extremely vulnerable to such marketing gimmicks. There are many other shows that exploit the psychosocial consequences of poverty. The manufacturers of detergents, cell phone companies, banks, drug stores, and even bookshops run raffles to induce consumption. They, not only the jueteng operators, cultivate a culture of gambling.

I hope the recent tragedy will shock us into taking a hard look at the mass media, especially television. In this age of information technology, media form an integral part of the educational system. They are more powerful than the schools because their impact is stronger and their reach is many times broader. But media are unable to realize this potential for public enlightenment and cultural enrichment if they continue to be lodged in the market system and treated as a means for profit acquisition and profit accumulation. On the contrary, our commercialized media serve as tools for miseducation and idiotization.

We in Laban ng Masa see our mass media today as a pillar of elite rule, an instrument for manipulating public opinion and promoting servility and consumerist values.

We recognize that a responsible media is a necessary partner in the process of system change, in the struggle to restore our sense of national pride and in combating colonial mentality. We also believe that this freedom does not include the right to stage inane shows like "Wowowee" for the sake of profit. The commodification and exploitation of poverty is at the core of the issue.

We propose that radio and television be required to reserve prime time for educational broadcasting. Cinemas should be obliged to give preference to locally produced films using the national and regional languages. This will promote the freedom of responsible journalists to probe and attack the performance of evil not only in the government but also in the private sector.

(Nemenzo, a former president of the University of the Philippines, chairs Laban ng Masa, a coalition seeking fundamental reforms in the country.)

Willie's games

Joke, joke, joke

Host Willie Revillame chooses members of the audience randomly and asks them to tell jokes. Upon telling a joke, corny or otherwise, the audience member gets a few hundred pesos.

Willie of Fortune

1. Questune - Prior to the program, organizers choose contestants who have the same occupation (for example, the contestants will all be hairdressers).

When Revillame calls for a "Questune," a pianist will play a song. The first contestant to press the signal button will be given a few seconds to guess the title of the song. If the person gets it right, he or she gets one point. If not, the other contestant will be given a chance to steal.

Whoever gets the title right will be asked to sing the song. If he or she can do that, he will get an additional point and will move on to the next level. If he or she cannot, the other contestant will be given the chance to sing and get the point. Any contestant that gets two points will advance to the next round.

2. Isang Talon, Isang Sagot - The remaining contestants stand in front of panels. Once a question is asked, a participant has to stomp on a panel to get the chance to answer. The first to score five points receives P50,000 and moves on.

3. Biga10 - Ten audience members are randomly pre-chosen. The winner in "Isang Talon, Isang Sagot" will be pitted against members of the "Biga10" one by one in a question-and-answer portion. Every time the winner from the previous game is beaten by a "Biga10," the former loses P3,000. But if he or she is able to beat all 10, his or her P50,000 will be doubled.

4. Sigurado o Doblado - If the contestant is unable to beat all 10, he or she will choose from "Sigurado" and "Doblado." If he or she chooses the former, the game ends with the contestant keeping what remains of the prize money.

If he or she chooses "Doblado," he or she can either double the money earned in "Biga10" or go home with P50,000, depending on the combination of chips he or she has chosen.

Pera o bayong

One hundred contestants are given a question with three possible answers. Each "answer" is assigned to a color- red, green or yellow. The contestants will then go to the color of their choice. Those who select the wrong answer will be eliminated. The process will continue until only one participant remains.

This person will choose three bayongs [baskets] from 10 bayongs with different colors. Of the 10, two contain P1 million each and one has either a motorcycle or house and lot. From the three selected bayongs, the contestant will choose one. Revillame will then start bartering the bayong for money. The participant will decide whether to stick with the money given by Revillame or risk getting whatever the bayong contains. PDI Research

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