LAST Sept. 8, when Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco was named to supervise the government-run Philippines News Agency (PNA) and stop its embarrassing gaffes, he assured the public they are “birth pains” and are “effectively addressed.”
The major PNA gaffes included:
■ The running (last Aug. 6) in its news web site of an article from Xin Hua, China’s news agency, which called the ruling of the Permanent Court Arbitration on the West Philippine Sea as “ill-founded.” Whose side was PNA on, asked critics.
■ The Aug. 11 use of the logo of Dole, the pineapple company, as its “thumbnail” for a news story about the Department of Labor & Employment.
■ Factual errors in a May 15 news story titled “15 states convinced there are no EJKs in PH” with several errors that a major source, a DILG assistant secretary, confirmed.
Inevitably, the issue on PNA was raised last Thursday, Sept. 21 when Egco spoke before the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC). Egco filled in for Communications Secretary Martin Andanar who had to remain in Manila because of the street protests at the capital on that day.
But what’s the score about the PNA?
Egco talked about what are being done: an editorial board created, an advisory council swapping ideas with PNA managers, and an investigation on causes of the error, including “negligence, incompetence or sabotage,” the latter bringing NBI agents into the PNA newsroom.
What they plan
And the plans for the news agency. Even before they assumed office in 2016, Andanar allowed a peek: an independent news agency, BBC style, he said. Egco also talked about it before CCPC. But it’s still an idea, which may look impractical in the Philippine setting. Probably because of Filipino politicians’ compulsion to use every resource at hand to promote partisan, political interest. (Remember how many presidents bared plans to sell government media but never did?)
More reachable is the dream, announced by Andanar last March 4, to improve the PNA newsroom which will integrate within the same walls all government media, and modernize its TV newscast, including a special TV substation in its broadcast band.
But what should interest community media from a “reinvention” of PNA is the kind of news and features they get from it. While PNA news now appears on its website and is accessible directly by readers, local newspapers and radio-TV stations have also used them for publication or broadcast.
But PNA will be useful to private media only if it reports government activities, decisions and plans as factually as possible. Whatever error it makes bears the seal of the government.
Unless PNA would be content with operating for show, just to meet a regional commitment to Asean on the maintenance of a news agency by each member country.
For a number of years in late 70s and early 80s, private media clients that could afford it were paying for PNA service. When that deteriorated, most, if not all, just stopped paying. PNA didn’t cut off the supply of its material because, a PNA official then explained to his bosses in Manila, the government was benefiting from the bargain by the publication of its news cum propaganda.
If PNA wants income again from private media clients (a pittance actually if placed beside the P1.31 billion PCOO budget approved for 2018), it must make its content competitive. Given the glut of digital information local media could pick from nowadays -- and use for free by just crediting and repackaging it.
Being the official news carrier of government policy and deeds, PNA would continue to be relevant. But there’s an obvious need -- given the changed media conditions -- to adjust its mission and operations to actual and practical usefulness.
Journalism retraining and management revamp won’t be enough. They may soon get it right, about which logo, photo or news to carry, but might still fail in the over-all purpose of a government news agency.
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Newspapers make more mistakes than PNA
WHEN Asst. Secretary Joel Sy Egco said an audit found 25 mistakes committed by PNA during its “transition period,” no one in Cebu comforted him with the fact that newspapers commit a lot more mistakes than a government news agency.
Of course, a daily paper processes a much larger number of stories and uses more layers of editing. Still, errors are a fact of life in the newspaper business. Most newspaper errors though aren’t as prominent and devastating as the use of a fruit logo for a labor agency story.
The problem is when vulnerability to gaffes is made a serial excuse. The job of an editor, in public or private media, is precisely to watch out for mistakes. “Nobody’s perfect” may be accepted as excuse once or twice. Beyond that, it goes to the case files for “negligence” or “incompetence.”