POLICE Regional Office Chief Debold Sinas has not stopped his press briefings with reporters covering the PNP beat. In contrast, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña announced last Aug. 28 he suspended starting that day his City Hall press-cons.
Sinas even went into a lions’ den of sorts, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council meeting last Sept. 20 during Press Freedom Week, where journalists other than police reporters and civic and academe leaders asked him relatively tough questions. Instead of shutting out media, the PNP regional director just ceased tangling verbally with Mayor Tomas Osmeña who had been sniping at the police over extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the city.
Tomas also intended it to be a ceasefire on his attacks against the police, planning to break his silence on Sept. 9, where he was to hold a thanksgiving assembly. On Aug. 30, however, in Mandaue City, President Duterte gave the mayor a tongue-lashing he might not forget. Tomas was cursed (the classic Dutertic “p***ng ina ka pala” expletive) and promised an un-presidential slap in the face the next time they’d meet. The mayor has since prolonged his self-imposed clamming up.
Messages go on
But neither General Sinas nor Mayor Osmeña has stopped sending messages to the press.
Not Debold who merely stopped talking about the mayor. “I know how he’d react, so why should I talk to or with him?” he said in effect. He has had no problem with other mayors, only with Tomas. Besides, there’s his city police chief to deal with the Cebu City mayor.
It’s Tomas who has gagged himself. He still communicates though: mainly in his Facebook account, which reportedly commands a huge following, and through his wife, Councilor Margot Osmeña, who can strike at political opponents without sounding like the mayor, snooty or imperial.
What is required
The Constitution and the laws encourage openness, under the worn-out mantra of “transparency” and accountability. They don’t require that the mayor or the PNP regional chief do it themselves. There are p.r. persons and publicists, spokespersons and surrogates who can appear and speak for the public official in a press briefing, which Malacañang and the White House do, or in a press release.
Image experts even underrate personal appearance or speaking role of public officials on media platforms, saying they must be done only when necessary. In a scandal or fiasco, or a situation that might lead into one, the public official is better not seen and heard. Denial will be more plausible, explanation less self-serving and defense less awkward or pathetic.
Presidents limit formal, seated press-cons where follow-up questions can be tricky and the answers are deemed to be from the direct source itself, not screened or filtered by a “mouthpiece.”
U.S. President Trump held a rare solo press briefing Wednesday (Sept. 25 in the U.S.), only his second on U.S. soil. Even that was a disaster; critics called it a “me, me, me, me” press-con. Our president, Duterte, tends to be long-winded in conveying his message, often descending into insult and offensive humor. If he can be managed at all, press handlers must wish he’d hold fewer press-cons. His talks with the press though gives vent to his complaints and laments and must be good for his emotional health.
Right to refuse
The realities in covering public officials:
• The press cannot legally force a public person to speak out himself, in a press-con, a radio talk show, or even in an ambush interview.
• What the public official may refuse is talking directly to the press. But he or his office may be compelled to release information if existing law or presidential executive order or public pressure demands.
Reporters may also seek other sources for the information denied them by the public official.
• More than any legal consequence is the impact on his image and “electability”: how his constituents view the public official’s shunning of media, which they may express in an opinion poll or the next election’s ballot.
• • •
News itself ‘can be a form of trauma’
CURRENT public attention on the hearings to confirm the appointment of a new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh has raised the concern that news stories about sexual violence may be themselves a form of trauma for the victims.
They’re struggling to cope with the pace of news from flashbacks to their own experiences, says Dr. Christine Nicholson, a clinical psychologist. They cause headaches, stomach pains, increased heartbeat, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns, she notes.
The remedy: limit consumption of news, on whichever platform they get the news.