WHILE the search by Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar for ways of helping journalists with their medical, housing and other needs is appreciated, it is also suspected by skeptics as an attempt to unduly influence mainstream media.
Some observers have characterized Andanar’s move as an attempt to “bribe” journalists in hopes of gaining favorable coverage of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. He is seen as exploiting the generally sad economic plight of private media workers.
The communications secretary, himself a former broadcaster, has been meeting press groups to look into their needs and exploring ways of helping them cope. Some problem areas being studied are low wages, high cost of housing and medical care.
In sum, how do we see Andanar’s reaching out to private media with offers of economic assistance?
Having been steeped in the libertarian traditions of the fourth estate, and being one whose default position in relation to government is adversarial — regardless of who the president is — we are among those who regard such moves with guarded appreciation.
Considering the dire working conditions of “journalists” (a class that does not include expensive bloggers in Andanar’s stable), we should not reject outright his plans, but examine them. There is no harm in discussing them in the context of our respective biases and mutual suspicion.
The Presidential Communications Operations Office of Andanar must make sure, however, that it is talking to the right parties – meaning those who are in a position to commit the working press and enforce commitments made.
• Media owners must care for their workers
WE THINK that the discussions must recognize first that working conditions and the economic welfare of the press are the prime responsibility of the owners of private media – not of the government, which exercises only an oversight function.
After all, it is the media owners who pocket the profits and then can use their organizations as political weapons and business tools to advance their ulterior agenda.
Against media moguls’ lavish lifestyle, the harsh economic pressures upon the working press and their families open the lowly workers to the blandishments of the privileged personalities they cover on the beat.
Imagine a reporter dining in expensive restaurants with officials or businessmen, then going home at night and tiptoeing so as not to awaken his children sleeping on the sofa or mats on the floor? Then hear about some newspapermen not getting from the office adequate assistance when they get sick or hospitalized.
If President Duterte himself has to talk directly to lords of media, to pressure them to upgrade employees’ welfare, let him do so. That will get results faster than an Andanar can, even granting his heart genuinely bleeds for media workers.
One problem with the PCOO boss’ plan to use government resources to give special attention to a selected sector (media) is that it might encounter legal challenges akin to objections to class legislation.
Expect such questions as “Bakit media lang, at di kami kasali?” (Why only media, what about us?) Why a special lane for the press seeking medical assistance, why cannot they line up and take their chance with the rest at Philhealth, SSS, or the Sweepstakes office?
And in the first place, who is a journalist? Are bloggers or tweeters with at least 5,000 followers entitled to the same special attention? In a housing project, what happens when the beneficiary ceases to be a journalist, retires or rents out his unit?
• Holding gov’t post compromises journos
OTHER problems may also arise on press freedom possibly being compromised when beneficiaries get priority in receiving government assistance on the basis mainly of their being journalists. How will special favors from government affect a reporter’s balance and biases?
When I was Inquirer chief editor with Eggie Apostol as chairman and publisher, we had a policy that when a management executive or editorial staffer – or their spouses — accept an appointment to a government post, the executive or staffer must resign from the paper.
In many private media outfits these days, however, there are editorial personnel, including those entrusted with such sensitive assignments as column-writing, also holding positions in government or government-controlled firms. This contributes to the erosion of media’s balance and credibility.
On the owners themselves using their media clout, we recall our departed colleague Neal H. Cruz telling us about how the then People’s Homesite and Housing Corp. (forerunner of the National Housing Authority) offered lots to media workers.
With the encouragement of their paper’s management, he said that he and fellow employees signed up for lots in what is now the Bohol Avenue area in Quezon City.
But with the site then thick with cogon, Neal said that the workers readily agreed to transfer their rights to management – which ended up being the occupant and owner of the adjoining lots that were later merged into an expansive site for a broadcasting base.
We wonder which is worse between this sneaky takeover and the cornering by the family of another media lord of a valuable strip of government land in Makati at a nominal lease rate and subleasing it at bloated rates to other people.