Harry Roque, whom President Duterte has plucked out of the House of Representatives to serve as his new presidential spokesman, has some ideas about press conferences.
As a fresh appointee to a key position in the problematic PCOO, the presidential communications office, Roque wants to try things his predecessors didn’t do before.
He announced he will have press briefings in Marawi City and perhaps other out-of-Manila sites. Maybe he plans to expand his clientele, not just the Malacañang press corps but also other media based in regional centers. That must be the reason for holding press briefings elsewhere, except of course for “optics” and symbolism.
If Roque does the briefing out of Manila, will the palace press corps, main carriers of the president’s messages, travel with him? Convenience and logistics, on top of the risk to personal safety or well-being, may derail the plan.
Day to erupt
What has provoked initial lack of enthusiasm, if not resistance, among Malacañang reporters is Roque’s plan to limit questions on Mondays to good news.
Good news is hard to find and bad news doesn’t pick a day to break out. Roque may choose any day to announce good news but he can’t shut out inquiries about bad news, especially a story that erupted or was sourced outside Malacañang.
What would it be like? No questions about any bad news today, not on a Monday, wait till tomorrow? The plan is doomed.
Impractical, even absurd. Bad news drives most news organizations as it’s their duty to tell the public about any event that threatens or otherwise affects national interest. It can’t stop them from searching elsewhere. Worse, it can fuel a slew of speculations in social media where standards of mainstream journalism are generally breached.
Editors want good news too. Some news outfits tell their staff to be on the look-out for good news or “feel-good” features. But they are hard to come by. And that doesn’t distract journalists from gathering stories that help inform the reader on decisions and opinions people routinely make, particularly those that tell how their public officials are governing: using public resources and protecting people’s rights.
The suspicion is that Roque wants the “good-news-only” day to address the concern of many presidents, including President Duterte, that media is obsessed with bad news. Maybe Roque hopes to focus media attention on the administration’s accomplishments at least one day each week.
Still, there’s little to gain by limiting questions on any day’s briefing. Roque must realize by now that as gatekeepers of government news, they manage not just flow of information, which includes influencing content of stories in the next news cycle.
He has to coordinate with communication experts on timing and content of the briefing. Slamming the door on bad news on a specific day is not unlike banning use of plastic bags at Cebu City malls on Saturdays: too inadequate to matter. PCOO guys must have the means to temper effects of bad news at any time it breaks. They have or they don’t have; they can or they cannot. That won’t deter media from getting the bad news and put it out over the good news.
Roque’s job requires more than skill in language and lawyerly logic, which he takes pride in.