THE Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) has the right to lay down rules for accrediting journalists who cover the president and activities in Malacañang. It can also change those rules: usually with the assent of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC), not as matter of media right but for the working relations between them.
Last August, PCOO announced a social media policy that allows internet publishers and users to cover the Palace. Reporters from the mainstream media raised objections, both for practical reason and ego-massaging function, hardly about press freedom:
■ Malacañang is the prime beat. A regular reporter has to go through several minor beats for the training and experience to cover the president. Editors don’t assign just anyone to the Palace. Issues generated there are supposedly complex.
A blogger may be the equivalent of a rookie, only far less prepared because a new hire in traditional media is at least a journalism graduate or has some experience in reporting. No editor certifies to the blogger’s skill. Thus, it is “disrespecting the institution” that is the presidency, opposers in media say, leaving unsaid the “insult” to Malacañang reporters who are supposedly the best of the crop.
■ Bloggers don’t follow standards and use that as excuse for writing unverified stories or even fake news and expressing opinions that don’t rest on facts and logic.
That also offends MPC members who believe bloggers might just muddle the press briefing.
A PCOO forum to hear the views of concerned sectors on its move to open Malacañang press briefings to bloggers disclosed the danger. Online writers might wage propaganda, driven by spite or profit, with no editor as gatekeeper. Absence of filter has its merit but it also has its downside, one speaker said.
We have yet to read the final version of PCOO’s social media policy but the bloggers must now be in, at least those who meet Palace qualifications, topped by the requirement on number of each blog’s followers.
But the noise this week wasn’t about the kind of information that bloggers gather at the press briefing or the product of their coverage.
It was PCOO Asst. Secretary Mocha Uson with her warlike chant: against Rappler, which she wants taken out of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) and reclassified as social media, then against the MPC, whose incorporation papers and bylaws and government documents related to its operation she sought from PCOO chief Martin Andanar.
And the firestorm may have been set off for the wrong reason.
Uson slipped when she said Rappler is not an independent media company. It has no counterpart print or broadcast arm but it is “an established online news organization with regular deployment or personnel in major beats,” which meets the MPC requirement.
Uson can’t compare Rappler to most websites that don’t operate like regular news organizations with their group of journalists and set of rules and standards on craft and behavior.
She’d have to persuade Andanar to demand for a change of MPC bylaws. Which would in effect tamper with a working arrangement between PCOO and the press corps and strike down a perfectly reasonable rule.
Given the critical reporting of Rappler, which drew attacks from pro-administration blogs, Uson’s move inevitably became suspect. Media and its defenders questioned Uson’s motive, with MPC slamming the plan against Rappler and tersely vowing, in a Nov. 8 statement, “to “ensure a strong free press and keep the public informed and the government in check.”
That may not be the end the end of it. Not after Uson retaliated with a scramble to secure MPC by-laws and SEC registration and all PCOO papers related to benefits granted to members and the press corps operations.
In more than one swoop, including her attack on presidential spokesman Harry Roque’s “flirting” with traditional media, Uson may have shattered the fragile peace between the administration and the press covering it. On top of giving her employers a bad press, she may also be subverting the policy of Roque to make peace with regular media. Is she confused about her role as PCOO official?
The wisdom of a blogger cum PCOO assistant secretary who has little love lost for mainstream media (“presstitutes”) drops on the table again. The press office doesn’t tangle with media. There must be some amount of peace and civility for each side to do its job efficiently.