POSTSCRIPT / July 29, 2010 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Warning shot fired across bow of media

WARNING SHOT: What, or who, prompted President Noynoy Aquino to fire a warning shot across the bow of media in his State of the Nation Address last Monday?

Many of us in the mainstream press were surprised upon hearing the President, after excoriating the Arroyo administration over money issues, say toward the end of his 39-minute, 3,900-word speech:

“To our friends in media, especially those in radio and print, to the block-timers and those in our community newspapers, I trust that you take it upon yourselves police your own ranks. May you give life to the principles of your vocation: to provide clarity to important issues; to be fair and truthful, and to raise the level of public discourse.”(My translation from the original Pilipino)

He continued: “It is every Filipino’s duty to watch closely the leaders that you have elected. I encourage everyone to take a step towards participation rather than fault-finding. The former takes part in finding a solution; from the latter, never-ending complaints.” (Malacanang’s official translation from Pilipino)

I wonder who inserted those barbs in the Speech of Noynoy Aquino (SONA).

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EDUCATION: While the press zealously guards it freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, it has never taken the position that the Fourth Estate is beyond reproach and presidential scolding, or that is it exempted from scrutiny by the public that it serves.

For one, my position has been that a publication is nothing without its public, that the journalist’s “boss” is the reader. Without his reader, the writer is nothing.

With that relationship between the writer and his reader, it follows that there be a mutually beneficial bond. One is not to take advantage of the other, but both of them must link up and grow together.

That growing together, constructively reacting to each other in mutual respect, is an edifying process called Education. The many functions of the press can be summed up in that one term.

Mr. Aquino wasted too many words when he pompously called our education function as “raising the level of public discourse.”

* * *

CODES & RULES: Presuming to speak for mainstream media. I dare say that, by and large, we know our job. While we may not always succeed, we do our best to stick to the principles as taught us by our elders in the trade and the academe.

Unlike public officials such as the President, we in private media do not use public funds. We believe that government — except to the extent that the law requires it – has no business telling us how to do our jobs.

We in media have our professional codes and our internal company rules imprinted on our foreheads, not to mention personal values indelibly ingrained in each of us.

While some nosey officials condescendingly lecture to us in an effort to feel good, we believe that such reminders about examining or policing ourselves are not necessary.

* * *

COOPTING MEDIA: When President Aquino told us to police our ranks, he may have meant that we should check on our fellow journalists to make sure we/they remain true to our calling.

Before saying that, the President should have looked at the mirror and asked himself why he crossed the adversarial line between him, a government official, and the press — and co-opted selected members of media.

It is of public record that Mr. Aquino has identified at least one high-profile broadcaster as one of his covert workers imbedded in private media during the campaign.

Understandably, when they won the presidency, he absorbed this wayward sheep into his propaganda team after he was suspended by his network for misconduct.

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SELECTIVE SCOLDING: It is intriguing that President Aquino singled out four sectors in media for public scolding: those in radio and print in general, the block-timers (those who buy time to use on air) and those in the community newspapers.

He left out television, his darling medium, having basked in its glamorous glow during the campaign. Poor print media and the community press, the last choices in the allocation of campaign ads, had to be scolded.

As for the block-timers, I suppose only those who did not go overboard proclaiming their faith in the Gospel according to Noynoy were marked for censure. Those who had been supportive were rewarded?

* * *

TWO OPS HEADS: On the matter of organizing the Office of the Press Secretary, I have no business commenting on it, except that I am a taxpayer and my work requires my having to deal with the agency.

It is now reported that the Communications Group (the new label of the reincarnated OPS) will have two secretaries, both of Cabinet rank: Ricky Carandang and Sonny Coloma.

My opinion will not matter, but I think the OPS/CommGroup should have only one Secretary. Having two heads would make the setup unstable.

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TURF WAR: If it is true that Carandang will be directly doing public relations for the President, he should be designated Press Secretary. The others, including Coloma, will have to fall in place under him.

But if some relatives want to keep a hold on power and the media assets of the agencies held by Coloma, they can organize another agency and place it under him as department secretary outside the control and supervision of Carandang.

Secretary Edwin Lacierda can tag along as ad interim spokesman until a new office (maybe that of a Cabinet spokesman) can be created for him. After the pieces fall into place, Carandang can move in as presidential spokesman and Press Secretary.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 29, 2010)

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