PGTW: Copycat campaign

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 December 2014, Thursday

Copycat campaign

The issue of plagiarism surfaces again, this time in connection with a government agency’s anti-teen pregnancy video released early this month.

The public service announcement (PSA) of the Department of Health (DOH) targeted young people, and to make sure it would be attractive to its audience, employed a music video format with talents cheerdancing to catchy pop music.

The lyrics of the three-minute PSA repeated the lines “gaga girl, bobo boy” in the refrain, implying that teenagers who engage in premarital sex and get pregnant are stupid. Another line referred to premarital sex as kasalanan – “sin.”

Unfortunately for DOH, netizens on the whole reacted negatively to the infomercial. On Twitter, @thenomad said: “nawalan ako ng gana kumain dahil sa DOH teen pregnancy campaign video nay un. kung sinuman nakaisip nun, isa kang Gaga Girl/Bobo Boy.” Another Twitter user, @mr0hsehun, was more succinct: “But yeah…DOH… ”gaga girl bobo boy” I think that’s very offensive.”

Not only were the lyrics insensitive, it turns out that the music may have been copied from Korean girl band f(x)’s tune “Rum Pum Pum Pum,” one of the tracks from their 2013 album Pink Tape. A comparison of the two tunes shows a similarity that is too great to attribute to coincidence.

SM Entertainment, the mother agency of f(x), was quoted by Korean websites No Cut News and My Daily on Dec. 8 to have said, “By no means have we permitted the use of the music “Rum Pum Pum Pum.” The original publisher [of the song] confirmed that the music used by the Philippines’ public service campaign in question is indeed plagiarism, so we already started taking action.”

Criticism came from another source – another government agency, the National Youth Commission (NYC). Commissioner Percival Cendaña said in a Dec. 3 letter to DOH Acting Secretary Janette Garin that the PSA’s core messages “reinforce stigma, discrimination, and sex-negative attitudes among the youth and society in general,” and urged the DOH to “permanently remove the said material from various official platforms.”

The DOH’s National Center for Health Promotion was supposed to have issued a statement on this matter yesterday, but none was released yet as of presstime.

There are two main issues here – the poorly-crafted message of DOH, and its alleged plagiarism.

Referring to sex as a “sin” is judgmental. The Constitution clearly calls for the separation of church and state and inserting a religious admonition in a government PSA is discriminatory against those of other faiths and the non-aligned.

Centuries of admonition from the pulpit have failed to eradicate or even reduce the incidence of premarital sex. What made DOH think using the same tactic would work this time?

Teen pregnancy is a societal problem, and what’s been proven to work is awareness of reproductive health and contraceptive methods. The social strictures against premarital sex are arbitrary and vary from culture to culture and across time. Given that, it’s time to create messages based on science and reason, not superstition.

And to talk down to an audience, calling them “gaga” and “bobo” is to disrespect their intelligence and capacity for thought. This is not a matter of stupidity but of ignorance. Teach the youth about reproductive health, make them aware of their options, and behavior change should follow.

To be credible, government agencies need be consistent with their messages. As Cendaña said, “convergence among government agencies…in the development of strategies, campaigns, and programs [is] critical.”

The NYC has offered to assist DOH in creating youth-friendly messages that address the issue of teen pregnancy. Other agencies that need to reach young people should coordinate with the NYC too.

As for the copycat allegations, it appears that previous cases of plagiarism that have surfaced in the news – businessman Manny Pangilinan’s graduation speech that used unattributed material (for which he handsomely apologized), Senator Tito Sotto’s lifting of material from researches and speeches (which he defended), the Department of Tourism’s adoption of another country’s palm-tree logo – have had little effect on public perception of plagiarism as a no-no.

If lessons are not learned from these cases, it’ll happen again, with the same embarrassing consequences.

DOH pulled the controversial ad in less than 24 hours after release. Still, they are left with the fallout from this debacle and a loss of face. This is too bad, because their campaign could have been helpful had it been more sensitive and all its elements thoroughly vetted.

But mistakes happen – tao lang – and DOH can get over this by acknowledging its misstep, moving forward with lessons learned, and continuing its mission of caring for the people’s health. ***

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