Media under Marcos: Lapdog or watchdog?
As a junior version of the late Ferdinand Marcos who justified his repressive martial law media policy as part of “constitutional authoritarianism”, will his son President Bongbong Marcos handle the Philippine press differently?
With no track record to go by, the media policy of Bongbong Marcos will be known only when his administration interacts in earnest with the masses through the traditional print and broadcast media and the new information platforms in cyberspace.
Will Bongbong try a reprise of his father’s experiment of turning the press – whose instinct is to act as watchdog against abuses in government – into a lapdog held on a leash by media owners protecting their interests by cooperating with Malacañang?
When martial rule was declared in September 1972 ostensibly to save the nation from a conspiracy of the communist left and the oligarchs on the right, the padlocked media were reopened only if controlled by cronies committed to serving the “New Society” of that time.
There was not much of a choice then since the working press, those who gathered and processed the news, could not publish their reports on their own to reach their target audience. Only wealthy media moguls could do that.
That was during the first Marcos era. Bongbong’s time is different in many aspects and he may have other theories and approaches in mind. Let’s hear them.
The appearance in the communication landscape of such platforms as Facebook, YouTube, Tiktok, Twitter, etc., that enable media to leap across geographical borders has loosened the grip of billionaire publishers dominating the information market.
Now almost anybody who acquires even low-budget access to the internet can create and publish virtually any information package – even lies, verbal abuse, and disinformation.
The loosening of control over print and broadcast media – such as newspapers, pamphlets, audio-video clips, and full-blown websites – that can be released into the public domain on meager budgets has made public information more free, democratic, and risky.
The breaking down of restrictive walls, alas, has also released trash into the wide-open atmosphere. What are the administration’s policies and plans for minimizing this info-pollution that exploded in alarming proportions during the last election campaign?
What is Bongbong Marcos’ thinking on the role of mass media in nation-building? Will he hew to the concept of his father that media must be a development partner of government, more of a collaborator and less of a critic?
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One test item that may prod Marcos to make a stand is the order of the Securities and Exchange Commission to close Rappler.com for accepting foreign-sourced funds that have diluted the required 100-percent Filipino ownership and control over the business.
In an order dated June 28, the SEC upheld its Jan. 11, 2018, decision shutting down Rappler for violating the constitutional and statutory foreign equity restrictions on mass media when it issued Philippine Depositary Receipts that the SEC said granted Omidyar Network, a foreign entity, control over the media organization.
While threshing out media issues, Malacañang may want to also set clear and rational ground rules for the coverage of the President.
The press secretary had reportedly said before her assumption of office that she wanted to bring in bloggers. Does she have in mind those who had proved to be effective during the campaign? This has not been explained well.
• FM ‘tuta’ checked by police dog
The question of whether the press is to be a watchdog or lapdog – or maybe a mongrel – was highlighted when we covered the 1982 US state visit of the first Marcos in a public display of mutual need and affection between him and then US President Ronald Reagan.
My assessment, as I wrote in my Postscript of Nov. 14, 2010, was that when Marcos visited, he was still the certified American boy and Ninoy Aquino (then in exile in Boston) was just being used to keep the dictator off-balance and compliant.
The lifting of martial law on Jan. 17 the year before was one of the conditions for Reagan’s receiving Marcos in the White House. (One wonders what Bongbong would be asked to do, and what he would ask in return, for him to visit the US with full honors.)
From the Holiday Inn (now the Beacon hotel) close to the Philippine embassy, we in the media team were bused to the Andrews air base in Maryland where Marcos was to arrive in style on Air Force One.
I cannot forget that Andrews coverage. Before entering the lounge to await Marcos, we Filipino newsmen were made to go one at a time to a German shepherd dog that sniffed us and our gear (camera, recorder, etc.) that we dutifully placed before it.
It was hilarious: We Marcos tuta (“lapdog,” a tag given those covering the visit) were being cleared by a dog! Probably on the theory that only a dog can recognize another dog? Ha, ha, ha!
Later in Washington, Marcos himself went through the routine of addressing the National Press Club – so America could sniff him!
No wonder, when we members of the Manila press alighted earlier from our bus to cover the NPC event, we heard what sounded like dogs yelping.
There on the sidewalk was a picket of Raul Manglapus’ commandoes barking at us “Marcos tuta”, delivering a telling message without saying a word. It didn’t bother me. But that was cute.
Marcos’ handlers had scripted that in his NPC speech, he would cite several converts, including Nilo Tayag as a youth radical who had allegedly embraced the New Society. Marcos was to point to a pre-designated spot in the audience and Nilo was supposed to stand as Exhibit A.
The problem was where Marcos pointed, there was no shadow of Nilo. The usual Pinoy wiseacres asked if he was out shopping.
Anyway… I slipped later from the media group’s kennel to interview Ninoy Aquino in their modest house in Boston, a solo flight I wrote about in my Postscripts of Nov. 7-14, 2010.