Trixie Cruz-Angeles, the incoming head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), has said she wanted to review the government’s policy of allowing vloggers, social media content creators and influencers to be accredited to official press events reserved only to members of the Malacañang Press Corps.
The practice of allowing non-journalists to press events in the Office of President began under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte administration, through a department order allowing popular vloggers and influencers with more than 5,000 followers to attend press conferences or out-of-town visits.
But they were never accredited as part of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC), whose members are journalists from local news agencies assigned to cover the president and vetted by the Presidential Security Group (PSG).
The PCOO, an agency under the Office of the President, has nothing to do with the MPC. It is a private, nonprofit and nongovernment social organization of journalists covering the Malacañang beat.
The incoming administration is free to do what it thinks is best for keeping Bongbong Marcos popular until the end of his term. Marcos won the presidency by a majority vote, the first leader to obtain nearly 60 percent of the votes in a multi-party elections, on May 9.
His popularity was largely aided by an army of keyboard warriors who discredited and maligned rivals while distorting history to rehabilitate his family’s image, after his disgraced late father was chased out of office by a military-backed popular uprising in 1986.
Marcos avoided critical media and openly embraced vloggers, social media content creators and influencers who only made positive reports about his election campaign.
His media handlers had praised vloggers and influencers for reporting truthfully about Marcos, criticizing the legacy media for harking back to the martial law days of the late dictator.
Obviously, Trixie wanted to continue the practice done during the campaign as an effective formula to sustain Marcos’s popularity among ordinary Filipinos.
Bongbong faces a tough challenge ahead to improve the quality of life of poor Filipinos as he grapples with galloping inflation, gargantuan debts, shrinking revenues, and lower business confidence.
The people will get easily frustrated and disillusioned if Marcos fails to deliver on his campaign promise to make lives better.
In 2016, Duterte promised to end corruption, bring down street crimes, and eradicate the drug problem in six months. He will step down at the end of the month without actually fulfilling any of his campaign promises.
Worse, he leaves an economic slump, with the Philippines plunging into recession in 2020 for the first time in three decades and doubling foreign and domestic borrowings from nearly 6 trillion pesos in 2016 to more than 12 trillion pesos.
The big challenge for Bongbong Marcos is bringing down the price of rice to 20 pesos per kilo, a campaign promise that is hard to fulfill given the high cost of rice production and a global shortage in fertilizers, one of the economic impacts of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
Duterte had controlled the narrative during the coronavirus pandemic as the legacy media’s movements and access were limited.
Information has become a one-way street and Duterte’s narrative was unchallenged and amplified by his troll army, social media influencers and vloggers.
It is an excellent template for handling the nosy media. Trixie, herself a vlogger, would likely continue Duterte’s communication and media policies.
But it will be a great disservice to the public to grant access to non-journalists who will only come up with propaganda and disinformation that will mislead the people and prevent them from finding out the true state of the country.
Only trained journalists can write and report about the government’s policies that will affect people’s lives, with proper context, background, analysis, and interpretation, based on facts and not personal opinions.
Journalists are trained to challenge the government’s narrative and facts, shifting through the sugar-coated statements meant to make the administration look good to the public.
Journalists have an accountability to the public to be accurate and truthful. They are responsible for all the facts they have gathered.
Journalists will be there to report on disasters, conflicts, and civil disturbance and national emergencies, including pandemics.
Journalists will always be biased for truth and justice, for the common good, and for public interests.
Non-journalists, who create social media content including videos, graphics, and texts, do not care about facts and truth as long as they gain more followers and engagements. They will not correct mistakes nor apologize for misleading audiences. They will even insist on false information they will post and share on social media platforms.
They may also spread hate messages to defend the government and malign administration critics and the political opposition to deflect wrongdoings and bad policies.
They will continue to poison the information ecosystem, subverting the political processes and threatening democracy in the country.
What will happen to the country without an open and free press? No one will closely monitor the government. There will be no real checks and balances.
Information coming only from paid trolls, social media content creators, influencers, and vloggers may be one-sided, biased, and dangerous.
Trixie must think twice before legitimizing vloggers, influencers, and social media content creators to help balance critical reports from journalists.
Journalists cannot stop Trixie from accrediting non-journalists to official press events in Malacañang. But she must take responsibility for whatever consequences it will create in the future if the government is sincere in combating false information and disinformation.
In the end, any administration cannot rely on non-journalists to do serious journalism and fulfill a watchdog role in government. A vibrant democracy needs a free press, not pliant social media content creators.