Seares: Suspended Mayor Rama complains of being denied access to Cebu City’s government media. He can hardly be seen, heard, or read about in its news and features. He created the city’s broadcast network, Rama says.

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Seares: Suspended Mayor Rama complains of being denied access to Cebu City’s government media. He can hardly be seen, heard, or read about in its news and features. He created the city’s broadcast network, Rama says.

[] Specifics of the opinion of City Legal Office are still to be disclosed but the issue, it would seem, is not the suspended mayor being excluded from management of City Hall-owned media but in being banned from its content.

DOES the suspension of Cebu City Mayor Michael R. Rama include stripping him of right of access to City Hall’s burgeoning information and propaganda machinery, or banning him as guest or host in its news and interview programs or segments?

Last June 11, 2024, on “Beyond the Headlines,” a Facebook Live interview program hosted by SunStar journalists Mildred V. Galarpe and Dodong Morallo, suspended Mayor Rama complained of being banned from the City Government media. Rama’s gripe: I created the network, now the people running it would ask for legal opinion whether I could be in it.

AWAITED: ACTING MAYOR’S GUIDANCE. Apparently the legal opinion supports the ban. Cerwin T. Eviota -- head of the City Government’s Radio Media Network (RMN), which operates the Sugboanon Channel -- told me Friday, June 14 the City Legal Office (CLO) already gave its opinion. Eviota wouldn’t disclose specifics, saying they “await the guidance of Acting Mayor (Raymond Alvin) Garcia for clarity.” The CLO opinion might require the mayor’s approval before being fully implemented or a side issue might need explanation.

Eviota said “It would be imprudent to preempt” the acting mayor’s guidance. As of this writing, the acting mayor also still has to respond to News+One’s request for his policy on Rama’s access to City-owned media.

RMN and its Sugboanon Channel operate independently of the City’s Public Information Office (PIO), Eviota stressed that during the radio network’s office blessing. Estela Grace “Jingkee” Rosit, public information officer, confirmed the structure, saying the broadcast arm “operates separately” and is not under the PIO (“lain jud sila nga office”).

LEGAL OPINION EXPECTELY FAVORS ACTING MAYOR. Even if it comes from a city attorney who was hired by the suspended mayor, the opinion most likely will be based on the law and thus is seen to favor the acting mayor.

Under the Local Government Code, as amended, the acting mayor has the right to all the mayor’s powers and functions, which have been stripped from the suspended mayor. Such powers include supervision and control of the City Government media. That must tell why Eviota sought the legal opinion and, having received it, he asked for clarification from the acting mayor’s office.

NOT EVEN NECESSARY FOR EXPRESS BAN by the acting mayor, according to Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos of the minority BOPK, who told me Monday, June 17 the law already deprives the Rama of his powers and functions during his suspension. Rama and Garcia are both lawyers, de los Santos said, they know the law and are sworn to uphold the law.

Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera told me she sees no harm in City Hall media to cover events in which SM Rama will participate. News managers decide on the basis of available personnel and which story is more important to them. There could be other events already scheduled, Pesquera said.

De los Santos refers to the legality of SM Rama supervising and controlling Sugboaon Channel and CNNI while he’s under suspension. Pesquera refers to the propriety of the suspended mayor being part of the city-owned media’s content. One is about controlling or interfering with a City Hall office. The other is about using the facility for messaging or public exposure. (Interestingly, from the Galarpe-Morallo interview on “Beyond the Headlines,” Rama considers giving or doing a media show part of his job as mayor, even if he’s suspended.)

CONFLICT BETWEEN RAMA AND GARCIA, more recently regarding the “policies and decisions” at City Hall, appears to be the problem. Could SM Rama still be heard and read about, could he take part in a program or segment of the city-owned media?

No harm, in the words of Pesquera, a member of the City Council committee on laws. There’s the rub since Rama and Garcia -- though party-mates who were elected mayor and vice mayor respectively under one party, the dominant Barug-Team Rama since 2019 -- don’t see each other eye to eye and each feels “bad” toward the other. That wasn’t so, Councilor Pesquera noted, when in late 2015 and early 2016 Rama also used some city facilities during the latter’s first two suspensions as mayor.

This time, Rama hasn’t been complaining about not exercising power or control over City Hall’s media facilities but about having no access to it, as news source or as participant in its programs, such as “Ingna si Mayor.”

Sugboanon Channel -- billed as “a broadcasting and media production company and “the teleradyo portal” of People’s Progressive Radio Media Network (PPRMN) of the Cebu City Government -- was created August 1, 2023. The RMN studio was inaugurated April 18, 2024, with then sitting mayor Rama declaring that the broadcast apparatus was for “public engagement through social communication.” It would promote to the public the city’s programs and services, to tell the people that “public service is alive in the city.”

CITY HALL-OWNED MEDIA. From its creation, PPRMN -- along with Sugboanon Channel and the Facebook page Cebu City News & Information (CCNI) -- has promoted the disclaimer that it is “NOT a propaganda machine.”

Of course, it is. More accurately, it is both an information and a propaganda machine. Mayor Rama has limited his denial: The radio network, he said, “is not my personal propaganda platform.” Rama PPRMN last April “a service-oriented entity” and “an avenue for all Cebuanos through its feedback system.”

City Hall-owned media tends to trumpet the City’s achievements to its residents -- and to the world, Rama said at the time. Expectedly, government media does not publish, except in less harsh light, failures and errors of its offices and officials. CCNI though has steadily gained some credibility through its practice of giving the anti-administration side of an event or issue, thus giving some context to its stories and better understanding by its audience.

Government media usually broadcasts and publishes successes and filters stories and images of failure. It dilutes and underplays news that’s bad for the administration and hypes up news flattering to its officials. The public may need to check government media stories against other sources, especially when its version is denied or disputed.

THE ISSUE HERE. The question in the Rama suspension interlude is: To what extent can the suspended mayor be excluded from exposure in city-owned media?

In the last week, for example, CCNI ran a news story and a video of the message of suspended mayor Rama on Independence Day. That didn’t mean Rama was actually exercising control, or interfering with the acting mayor’s function, over CCNI. Rama just managed to be included in the outlet’s content. Being denied access to the city government-run media is what he has complained about.

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