A REGIONAL conference of public information officers (PIOs) gathered in Cebu City last June 11 to discuss common problems in communicating the message from their respective government units and agencies.

But their superiors--the chiefs of LGUs and offices--were not there. And the nagging problem in communication has mostly involved them.

Who said so? The PIOs themselves.

Last September, at a Cebu Press Freedom Week forum, PIOs said it should be the heads of offices who need to listen to advice from media about managing public relations.

Gripes list

A PIO can do little or nothing if his boss:

--Can’t talk plain English or Bisaya, spins in circles before making his point or getting lost in the effort;

--Wants every press release to praise him and his activities and blames the PIO if that is rewritten by the paper or broadcast station to focus on the story’s core;

--Doesn’t know how media or the news process works and yet ignores or refuses advice on dealing with the press or handling an explosive issue;

--Doesn’t want to talk to the press, stonewalls or takes forever to respond to questions of public interest;

--Gives half-truths, false claims, or outright lies.

--Gets angry over media criticisms, questions personal motive of the journalist, plots revenge and gets personal in the debate;

--Uses carrot-and-stick treatment on favorable news and offensive commentaries, shunning “hostile,” and coddling “friendly,” journalists;

--Pulls strings with managers or publishers, writes scathing letters to the editor or goes to court, instead of clarifying, correcting or otherwise using well the right of reply.

Hogging attention

And so forth and so on, the list is long. In sum: actions and reactions that PIOs believe are no-no’s in a healthy and fruitful relationship with media.

Many PIOs are picked for their experience and training or what they’ve tried hard to learn when given the job. Only few occupy “plantilla” positions and hardly get extra pay or perk for the add-on task. And yet often, they are shut out from sticky issues and summoned and castigated when a media crisis erupts.

Most of the time, the boss, especially when he’s elected to the office and wants to get reelected, hogs media attention. That’s understandable but when he answers questions on the inane and innocuous and on matters that only an expert knows about, he treads on slippery ground and often stumbles.

Many bosses, one PIO told me, don’t know when to speak and when not to, don’t appreciate the right and chance to deny when they themselves didn’t say it, don’t prepare what to say even when there’s time to think over an issue, or otherwise don’t consider ill effects of what is said.

“I cringe every time my boss speaks off the cuff as I think how he’d sound on TV news,” the PIO said on condition of absolute anonymity. “In print, mercifully, some editors correct grammar and syntax but, alas, not tortuous logic.”

Urgent grievance

Heads of LGUs and agencies, to be sure, must have their own gripes against their PIOs, particularly those who think they should be in the vortex of the news, not their principals, those who erroneously quote their bosses, creating by themselves the p.r. fiasco, and those who wage vendettas against journalists they hate.

For now though, it’s the PIOs who have more urgent grievance against those whose public image they’re supposed to protect and enhance.

Bosses have only the mission of their office and their own reputation to damage or destroy.

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