The major scoop PNoy gave that TV5 host

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By Atty. Pachico A. Seares

Media's Public

Friday, August 15, 2014


MELENCIO S. Sta. Maria who? To many people, including journalists and media consumers who watch regularly only the top two broadcast networks, Mel Sta. Maria (his media name) is not familiar.

Sta. Maria is a lawyer, law dean of Far Eastern University, whose academic degrees include a master of laws in banking law from Boston U’s School of Law, and a bachelor of laws and a b.s. in biology, both from Ateneo de Manila U.

Yes, he’s with media and, according to TV5 news chief Luchi Cruz, his co-host in the program “Relasyon,” is “media savvy.” Sta. Maria knows how “to dish out sound bites just the way we wanted them: short and crisp and juicy.”

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But he’s not hard-core, full-time media practitioner, not one of the biggies in the news business, in fact he’s a part-timer as TV5 resident legal analyst who sometimes does short segments on legal issues in TV5 and co-hosts on the legal-advice program “Relasyon.”

So why did President Noynoy Aquino pick him for an exclusive interview, recorded in Malacañang and broadcast last Aug. 13 when PNoy dropped the bombshell of an oh-my-God story: the president is now open to amending the Constitution, lifting the term limit, and seeking another term as president?

No heavyweight

PNoy didn’t choose a heavyweight of a media opinion-maker or anchor in one of the giant networks. Noli de Castro: no, not Noli whom PNoy once castigated at an ABS-CBN party for alleged partisanship and bias. Not Korina Sanchez, who’s LP titan Mar Roxas’s wife who clawed at CNN’s Anderson to defend Mar and PNoy about government response to super-typhoon Yolanda. But why not Mel Tiangco or Mike Enriquez, GMA7 stalwarts?

Apparently, it wasn’t bulk or clout of the media personality, vast experience in the news, or reach of the broadcast that led to the Palace choice.

Malacañang is not telling the reason but I suspect it was Sta. Maria’s articles that clinched the major scoop. Check out these pieces, published at a time the chorus of voices from most opinion makers beat up PNoy: “The president within constitutional bounds in criticizing the Supreme Court,” “Understanding the president’s response to the SC’s DAP ruling,” and “Why scrutinizing the judicial development fund is not necessarily bad.”

Sta. Maria must truly believe in the correctness of PNoy’s attack on the SC. Give Sta. Maria the presumption that he wasn’t trying to coddle the president amid the volley of criticisms rained on PNoy. Yet he must have known he was endearing himself to Malacañang just as those spewing out unfriendly fire knew they were courting Palace hate and anger. Clips of Sta. Maria’s opinions, published in interaksyon.com, must have topped the briefing packet fed daily to PNoy.

News source’s right

PNoy, like any other news source, has the right to choose the journalist he wishes to talk with, exclusively or with a selected group. A prerogative that may alienate other journalists competing for news and would surely be harsh and biting on raw wound when only one competitor is given the monumental scoop.

News reporters and editors who’re aggrieved may become critical in their handling of news from the “offensive” source. But, heavens, this is the president whose office controls flow of information in a vital beat. No reporter or news desk can afford to snub him or distort the news coming from the communications center. At most, they can be coldly neutral but cannot be mean.

So PNoy did what he did for Sta. Maria and TV5, which till now must be gloating over the enormous exclusive. Any other news source couldn’t take as much risk. Most can’t go on a limb, like angering a gaggle of reporters or opinion makers who’re left out in the cold, away from a big story.

News sources may use the carrot-and-stick technique but only up to a point. A city official once banned reporters of Sun.Star he thought was hostile, not only from his home where he’d hold a press-con but also from City Hall, a public building he didn’t own. But only briefly as he soon realized (1) the paper got his story anyway from other sources, (2) his image of openness and transparency suffered, and (3) he wasn’t being fully covered in the paper read by a large segment of his constituents.

Like succulent meat

In the Sta. Maria case, PNoy knew that all other media would seize the story once it came out. Even rival news organizations would use it and they did. Social media, feeding on information from mainstream media, pounced on it as if thrown with fresh succulent meat on a lean-news day.

As to media’s public -- readers and other consumers -- aren’t they short-changed? Not as long as the favored journalist and his outfit don’t distort the story in the benevolent news person’s favor.

They may run and rerun the interview, squeezing dry its promotional value, but that’s part of the price, not exacted but expected by Malaca¤ang. And despite some suppressed sourgraping, competitors will accept. They can’t do anything about it, at least not until chances for the next big story come.

publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 16, 2014.

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