Sa­sot in Sum­mit

Sun.Star Cebu - - OPINION - BONG O. WENCESLAO khan­

The plan was ob­vi­ous when the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Oper­a­tions Of­fice (PCOO) started ac­cred­it­ing blog­gers to cover Mala­cañang aside from rep­re­sen­ta­tives of tra­di­tional me­dia out­lets. I like the phrase used by a re­porter of a Manila me­dia out­let for it: to con­trol the nar­ra­tive. The Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion couldn’t con­trol tra­di­tional me­dia, so it trained its eyes on so­cial me­dia.

I do like the idea of rec­og­niz­ing so­cial me­dia be­cause, whether we like it or not, its pres­ence can no longer be ig­nored. The me­dia land­scape is no longer the ex­clu­sive do­main of main­stream jour­nal­ists and broad­cast­ers. That can’t be done on the fly but should be a prod­uct of a deep study. Who are to be ac­cred­ited and what are the guide­lines? The rules should be clear or chaos would en­sue.

I am par­tic­u­lar, for ex­am­ple, about con­duct, af­ter all, tra­di­tional me­dia work­ers have been guided by an eth­i­cal code re­fined through the decades. That doesn’t seem to bother the PCOO. In Au­gust this year, PCOO head Martin An­da­nar is­sued an ob­vi­ously rushed “In­terim So­cial Me­dia Prac­ti­tioner Ac­cred­i­ta­tion.”

It de­scribed so­cial me­dia as “a per­son that main­tains a pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble so­cial me­dia page, blog or web­site, which gen­er­ates con­tent and whose prin­ci­pal ad­vo­cacy is the reg­u­lar dis­sem­i­na­tion of orig­i­nal news and/or opin­ion of in­ter­est.” Nowhere were worlds like “ob­jec­tiv­ity,” “fair­ness,” “de­cency,” etc. were men­tioned. And it stressed on num­bers: at least 5,000 fol­low­ers on any so­cial me­dia plat­form.

The move was ap­par­ently meant to al­low the en­try of the so-called DDS (Die-hard Duterte Sup­port­ers) who are dom­i­nant in so­cial me­dia not nec­es­sar­ily for their grasp of me­dia norms and val­ues but for the par­ti­san­ship in their dis­course. For them, the ends jus­ti­fies the means, and not the other way around. Thus, they have of­ten been guilty of vul­gar­ity and the use of fake news.

When DDS blog­ger Sass Ro­gando Sa­sot, ac­com­pa­nied by PCOO As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary Mar­gaux Uson, made a scene at the des­ig­nated International Me­dia Cen­ter for the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (Asean) Sum­mit at the World Trade Cen­ter in Pasay City, that was a prod­uct of PCOO’s so­cial me­dia ac­cred­i­ta­tion scheme. Sa­sot con­fronted a Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Corp. (BBC) re­porter for an­other is­sue.

Sa­sot’s act showed how tricky it is to al­low so­cial me­dia prac­ti­tion­ers that can be de­scribed as, to use a Ce­buano term, “way tahal,” to do what le­git­i­mate jour­nal­ists and broad­cast­ers have been do­ing through the decades. Blog­gers that can be par­ti­san and vul­gar can’t be ex­pected to act de­cently and ob­jec­tively dur­ing cov­er­ages. Consider, for ex­am­ple, that what got Sa­sot rant­ing at Jonathan Head was the re­cent BBC in­ter­view of an anti-Duterte blog­ger.

And con­duct is just one as­pect of the at­tempt by the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­gage so­cial me­dia. The other should be out­put. What, for ex­am­ple, has blog­gers to show for join­ing cov­er­age of ma­jor events? What kind of sto­ries did they churn in their blog or web­site? Were they able to digest the meat of the talks? How ob­jec­tive and fair were they in their re­ports on the ac­tiv­i­ties?

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