The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) under Secretary Martin Andanar released last Wednesday, August 9, its interim guidelines for granting accreditations to social media practitioners in covering events involving President Rodrigo Duterte.
According to Department Order #15-2017, “any Filipino citizen who is at least eighteen years old and has a minimum of 5,000 followers on any social media platform” can apply for accreditation. PCOO said the application forms can be downloaded on their website, though they haven’t as of this time.
First of all, it is commendable for PCOO to do this. It’s a recognition of what we have long known – that more and more Filipinos are now turning to blogs like The Filipino Scribe and online media outlets to get their news. This is the reality regardless of the condescending attitutes some “mainstream” journalists have expressed toward bloggers.
Now, since PCOO itself admitted through the aforementioned memorandum that this initiative is still on a “test-run” basis, then there’s nothing bad for us to make suggestions as to how the system can be improved over time:
1) More weight should be given to social media personalities who also maintain a website.
One publication sardonically pointed out that under current PCOO accreditation guidelines, “18 year olds with strong social media following can now cover presidential events.” That is of course if it will be interpreted liberally. Needless to say, there needs to be a stricter means of filtering the applicants.
It will be better if PCOO prioritizes applicants who maintain their own blog or website. That way, they can be sure that they aren’t granting accreditation to shady and fly-by-night characters. For example, the Facebook page of “PBA Vines,” “Rbreezy,” and “Pastor Hokage” can technically qualify under the guidelines set by PCOO given their massive social media following. Will they be granted accreditations too?
2) Emphasize that the applying party should be primarily writing about news and current events.
Otherwise, what’s the point of attending a presidential event if the social media personality/blogger is primarily writing about entertainment and fashion?
3) The accreditation should be long-term
The memo emphasizes that the accreditation will be “on a per event/activity only” unless expressly stated. This is not gonna work because the President typically engages in several activities every day. Does it mean that social media practitioners need to apply for each of those event? A better alternative is to provide accreditations that can be good for say, six months or up to one year.
4) Be non-partisan in granting accreditations
Before presenting the final point, let’s take a moment to talk about the concept of “access journalism.” Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, veteran American journalist Dean Starkman described that in access journalism, “the reporter-source relationship is more transactional, with a focus on securing insider access.”
Meaning, journalists are sometimes forced to be friendly to those in power because one offensive story can make them lose access to these sources.
And government leaders know how to try to push their advantage. For example, the White House earlier this year barred critical media outlets like CNN, The Guardian, and The New York Times from attending a press briefing by then-presidential spokesman Sean Spicer. Meanwhile, entities that are supportive to United States President Donald Trump like Breitbart, One America News Network, and The Washington Times were allowed to cover the event.
It will be wrong for PCOO and Malacañang to give accreditation only to known pro-Duterte bloggers like RJ Nieto’s ThinkingPinoy or Sass Rogando Sasot’s For The Motherland. If the administration values transparency and free discourse, then social media personalities that often express views that lean on the opposition side must also be granted access.