Of journalists and bloggers

By | December 3, 2017

It must be difficult being a journalist in the Philippines these days. Where before, Malacanang reporters only had to worry about being scooped by the few competing journalists in their beat, they now have to contend with bloggers who quarrel with them when they ask during a press conference a question that to these bloggers are not favorable to the Duterte administration.

The same goes for columnists who before only had to respond to writers of letters to the editor, who are often respectful and who limit their comment to points raised by the writer. Now, journalists are faced with a deluge of e-mails or blogs that are overflowing with profanities and insults but devoid of reasonable arguments.

Consider the case of the journalist belonging to the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) who was confronted in public by a pro-Duterte blogger and lectured on journalism fairness. Can you imagine a veteran journalist, who is bound by established journalism ethics and by strict rules imposed by his editors at the highly respected news organization, being dressed down by a blogger who probably doesn’t even know the difference between journalism and blogging?

Every legitimate news organization has editors who have long years of journalism experience and who have extensive training and experience in spotting errors in grammar and fact, and infractions on fairness and accuracy. Many long established news organizations like the New York Times and the Philippine Daily Inquirer have ombudsmen who investigate reporters if a reader or the subject of the story complains, or if they go beyond the strict parameters of journalism. Journalists belonging to these news organizations are not only answerable to their readers and sources, but firstly to their editors and professional media guilds or associations where they belong.

Bloggers, on the other hand, are individual writers who, more often than not, do not possess such training and experience and who do not have editors and professional media guilds or associations to make sure they do not go out of bounds. In the early years of social media, there were many bloggers – discussing every conceivable subject from food and restaurants to health and fitness – and most of them were respectable writers who know intimately their subject matter.

But with the rise to the highest echelon of power of Rodrigo Duterte, who has made cursing, throwing threats, and spreading fake news and hate seem fashionable, little clones of the former Davao mayor have emerged in social media spreading the gospel of hate and divisiveness and making sure that the nation is divided into pro-Duterte and all the others. To these little tyrants, either you agree with the way Duterte is running the government or you are an enemy of the state. To them Philippine society is black or white, nothing in between.

And now, they are out to drive a wedge between bloggers and professional journalists.

Mocha Uson, the recognized queen of Diehard Duterte Supporters (DDS) bloggers who faithfully defends Duterte against all critics and who has been amply rewarded with a key position in Malacanang’s propaganda machinery and possibly a slot in the PDP-Laban’s senatorial slate in 2019 (heaven forbid!), is flexing her newfound political muscle and wants to exact revenge on her nemesis, the Rappler news organization.

Raissa Robles, head of Rappler, has been very critical of Mocha’s boss Duterte and has been warning Rappler readers, and anybody else who cares to listen, of the authoritarian tendencies of the President since he emerged as a presidential candidate. She has courageously tangled with Duterte’s trolls in social media and with Mocha herself many times.

Mocha is pressuring her other boss, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, to re-classify Rappler as social media so that the highly respected online news organization would fall under her control, she being the head of PCOO’s social media. Mocha insists that since Rappler does not have a broadcast or print component, it should be classified as social media.

Following Mocha’s reasoning, venerable agencies like the Associated Press, Agence France Presse (AFP) and Reuters, among others, should be classified as social media since they do not have broadcast or print components. Rappler’s stories, like these three news agencies, are being used by scores of subscribers all over the world.

Mocha also failed to mention that under the PCOO and Malacanang Press Corps (MPC) accreditation guidelines, news organizations that have reporters covering major beats qualify to be accredited to cover the prestigious Malacanang beat.  Section 2 of the MPC accreditation guidelines read: “For internet-based media, the reporter must represent a website affiliated with a duly-recognized print/radio/TV agency, or established online news organization with regular deployment of personnel in major beats.”

Rappler has scores of reporters covering not only the major beats but also those writing on entertainment, business, health and fitness, sports and other sections of major newspapers. It is by any means of definition, a legitimate news organization – a full-fledged newspaper on the internet.  

Mocha leads a group of pro-Duterte bloggers who desperately crave for recognition in the field of journalism. The insistence of blogger Sass Rogando Sasot, author of the “For the Motherland” blog, to be given priority in being interviewed by the BBC journalist in his show because she claims to have more followers than what she called “minor blogger” Jover Laurio is symptomatic of this desire to be recognized as legitimate journalists.

“Can you tell me how is it possible that Jover Laurio, a very minor blogger in the Philippines, was featured by the BBC in order to defend herself…but not someone like me whose social media following is way way higher than her, whose Facebook engagement is way way higher than her and who you had even interacted on Facebook?” Sasot asked. “Why were you not concerned about my safety but you were concerned about Jover Laurio?”

Laurio, who is author of the “Pinoy Ako Blog,” was interviewed by the BBC last month after she admitted being behind her blog as some pro-Duterte bloggers were threatening to expose her true identity. Sasot is stripping the interviewer, Jonathan Head, of the right to determine who to interview in his own show. How was Head to know that Sasot had more followers than Laurio? And does it even matter that Sasot had 5 million followers, as she claims, who for all we know are all Duterte trolls and blind supporters?

Laurio is just one of many journalists and anti-Duterte blogger being hounded and harassed by Duterte bloggers and trolls. Even Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque is finding out that it is extremely difficult to cross Duterte trolls and bloggers. After Roque, who was a UP professor and human rights lawyer before disappointingly accepting the spokesman job in Malacanang, asked DDS bloggers to please respect legitimate media, he was immediately hounded by DDS bloggers led by, of course, Sasot.

To his credit, Roque remained firm on his stand to defend the mainstream media. And the Malacanang media just went on doing their job of covering the President without blah-blah-ing on Facebook. And that in a nutshell is what differentiates journalists from the pro-Duterte bloggers.