Bridging mainstream journalism with social media influencing

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AL S. VITANGCOL III

HARRY Roque officially assumed the post of presidential spokesman earlier this week and announced the creation of an Office of the Presidential Spokesperson (OPS), which is separate and distinct from that of the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO).

The mandate of the PCOO is “to serve as the premier arm of the Executive Branch in engaging and involving the citizenry and the mass media in order to enrich the quality of public discourse on all matters of governance and build a national consensus thereon.” Roque obviously knew that his main job of speaking for and in behalf of the President was not totally congruent with the functions of the PCOO.

A few days ago, Roque literally broke bread with the journalists covering the President and extended his gesture of goodwill to the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC). Apparently, this did not sit well with an executive of the PCOO.

What is the MPC? Is it registered as a corporate entity? Based on available materials, the MPC is an informal group of journalists covering the seat of the presidency. Different media organizations like radio, television and newspapers are represented in this group. Although informal, the group elects its own officers. In fact, on September 26, 2016, its officers took their oath, together with the Malacañang Cameramen Association (MCA), and Presidential Photojournalists Association (PPA). Jocelyn Montemayor-Reyes of Malaya is the current MPC president.

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The existence of an informal press corps is not new. Its beginnings can be traced to US President Theodore Roosevelt who served from 1901 to 1909. It is said that Roosevelt noticed some reporters huddled outside the White House one rainy day. Taking pity on them, Roosevelt gave them a temporary room inside the White House, effectively inventing the presidential press briefing. The grateful press, with unprecedented access to the White House, rewarded Roosevelt with ample coverage. This is the birth of the White House Press Corps.

Are social media influencers eligible to become members of the MPC? Frankly, I do not know. PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar can probably enlighten us on the matter. What is evident at this time is that Roque is trying to bridge the mainstream media and social media.

Social media use for govt
The PCOO was in the lead in the drafting of an Administrative Order on Social Media Use for Government. Let us see if the rules and guidelines therein can be an effective way of minimizing the perceived digression with mainstream media.

The proposed administrative order defines social media in this manner–“Social media refers to computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas and other forms of expressions, and content via social media platforms and virtual networks.” Government agencies are enjoined to “promote and advocate the use of social media to foster good governance, transparency and accountability, citizen participation, productivity and organizational performance and improvement of public service delivery.”

The social media team (SMT) of a government unit shall be headed by a Social Media Officer (SMO), who “shall act as advocate and provide over-all supervision and control on matters involving the implementation of the social media policy.” The SMO must be at least a second-level executive-managerial officer of the agency, and must have at least one year of relevant experience in the field of ICT or communications, with management competencies such as providing overall direction in the social media strategy of the organization, community-building and crisis management, marketing, and having an understanding of the social media technology and landscape. SMO shall be responsible for the overall design, content and campaign planning for social media.

The SMT is required “to verify information; check grammar, spelling and punctuation; and be quick in admitting mistakes and in correcting inaccuracies.” Likewise, social media content must be sourced from credible, reliable or validated entities or websites only.

Section 7 of the draft AO, pertaining to content management of the social media should be emphasized. It prohibits posting of opinions made by any of its officers or employees, which do not represent the department’s or agency’s view. More so, civil servants are required to comply with Republic Act 6713 with respect to their actions on social media.

“Behaviors that would bring disrepute to public service, that discourage confidence and trust in public servants, or that adversely reflect on the agency, co-employees or self as a public sector employee” and “posts that might appear to solicit support for or against a political party” are also prohibited.

Will the violators be penalized? Yes, based on Section 15 of the proposed AO: “Commission of prohibited acts and the failure to comply with the provisions of the AO shall constitute misconduct and shall subject the offending civil servant to appropriate administrative sanctions under the 2017 Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (RACCS) and Section 11 (Penalties) of RA 6713, in addition to any criminal and/or civil liability that may attach.”

Criticizing the government
It seems that the primary purpose of the government in resorting to social media use is “to improve access to government information, to listen to the public’s issues and concerns, and to engage them deeper in consultation.” I assume that “engaging in deeper consultation” includes hearing the criticisms thrown at the government, and responding to such criticisms appropriately.

If the criticisms are posted in social media sites of the government, and these are published using anonymous accounts, how then can the presidential spokesman throw hollow blocks at them, or even break bread with them? This is the major problem in social media publishing – anonymity.

In mainstream media, every journalist is accountable for his/her own writing. They are required to use their real names as indicated in the bylines. These writers cannot, and will not, hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

This reminds me of US reporter Helen Amelia Thomas (1920-2013), best known for her longtime membership in the White House Press Corps. She said that everyone with a cellphone thinks they are photographers; everyone with a laptop thinks they are journalists; but they have no training and they have no idea of what the press keeps to in terms of standards; and they have no dedication to truth.

“We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers,” she said.

It is indeed.

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