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Battle of optics

Rather than being driven down to boredom, if not hypertension by the daily traffic grind to and from places in Metro Manila, watching Hollywood TV series in Netflix while mobile has become my effective escape from gridlock malaise. One of my favorite series is “Madam Secretary,” a political drama with actress Tea Leoni as the fictional woman US State Department Cabinet official.

I have been watching this popular US TV series long before one of its episodes, 15, season 3 aired last May this year negatively depicted the “Philippines’ unconventional new president.” Entitled “Break in Diplomacy,” a fictional Filipino leader “crosses the line” by making inappropriate advances toward the female lead character, US Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Leoni).

The Philippine embassy in Washington reportedly even sent a letter to the CBS Corporation in “protest” of that offending episode and to urgently call for “the necessary corrective actions.” Leoni took to Twitter to react to the uproar here by rabid supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte. “Funny, I had someone else in mind… #relaxduterte,” she tweeted.

After so much hue and cry about it, nothing came out of that hullaballoo. But really, watching it and other Hollywood  TV political drama series are more entertaining than real politics here in the Philippines. In our country’s political drama, it is life-imitating art we fondly call as tele-novela.

Admittedly an avid fan of this particular Netflix drama series, I picked up the term “optics” that the characters talk about when confronted with a situation that needs to be picked up by the media and generate desired public perception, especially in times of crisis or problems. Or in old parlance, it is public relations (PR) management.

But the term “optics” actually refers to a branch of physics dealing with light. “Optics” is the science that studies light and the way it affects and is affected by other things.

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However, in a political context, the term “optics” refers to the way in which an event or course of action is perceived by the public.

It would be safe to guess that after this controversial episode of “Madam Secretary,” it has since then been followed closely. Government officials in particular and private practitioners engaged in this trade of image building and PR crisis management may have picked up, too, already the term “optics” often mentioned by the principal characters in this political drama series.

Watch and learn.  

Unfortunately, since they took office in June last year, the officials of the Duterte administration seemingly have a long learning curve. The mistakes and errors in the first few months into office were understandable. Now on their 15th month into office, committing the same mistakes and errors over and over again are no longer acceptable.

Thus, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) headed by Secretary Martin Andanar is no longer in a forgiving mode to the series of embarrassing boo-boos that rocked the government’s chief information agency. Andanar pulled former newsman-turned undersecretary Joel Egco out of the Office of the President (OP) to head the editorial board of the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA). The PNA is one of the attached agencies under Andanar’s PCOO.

Egco is currently the executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS), a special body created by President Duterte to address the spate of killings of Filipino journalists. The President activated the PTFOMS under Administrative Order No. 1 he signed on Oct. 11 last year.

Actually, the PNA editorial board head is a second job assignment for Egco because his main appointment is undersecretary at the OP to where the PTFOMS directly reports. But Andanar detailed Egco to the PNA in concurrent basis since the PCOO Secretary is a co-chair of the PTFOMS.

Knowing Egco’s background as a journalist and former president of the National Press Club (NPC), Andanar tapped Egco to troubleshoot at the PNA following a number of embarrassing news coming out from the PNA website one after the other. Egco discussed at length with us the reforms and changes he started to institute at the PNA in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay held last Wednesday at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate, Manila.

According to Egco, some PNA editors got booted out as a result of these erroneous posts that came out of their website after investigations showed who and what caused them. Without naming names, suffice it to say, Egco found the first booboos were not intentional but were due to honest human errors and neglect of the past administrations.

But the latest attacks on the PNA website that uploaded internal messages of editors, Egco bewailed, turned out from their investigations were committed by a disgruntled information technology (IT) employee who got transferred out of PNA but who had access to their old and new website. “It was a case of sabotage, not a glitch, but a clear case of cyber crime,” Egco bewailed.

He sought IT experts from the Department of Information  and Communication Technology (DICT) and the Anti-Cyber Crime division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to build an airtight criminal case against the alleged brains behind the cyber attack on the PNA website. The suspicion of sabotage was bolstered when someone with IP (Internet Protocol) address from Pasay City attempted to access the new dashboard of the PNA which holds office in Quezon City. They closed down the old one after the latest boo-boo.

One of the immediate cyber security measures to correct the system at the PNA, Egco cited, is to synch the new website system of the agency to prevent a repeat of errors of the past. With the advent of multi-platform media, currently dominated by more popular social media, Egco admitted the PNA needs a lot of catching up to do.

“Quoting President Duterte, Secretary Andanar relayed to us his desire to maintain editorial independence of the PNA although run by government as a credible and reliable source of information,” Egco said.

He rued the PNA, which was once a leading news agency in the country in the past, has deteriorated through the years due to neglect of previous administrations.

“We are now in the process of rebuilding the PNA and make it truly the People’s News Agency,” Egco vowed. He announced the 44-year-old PNA will have a re-launch next month of its multi-media telecast at par, if not better than before.

With those words, the battle of optics is cast.


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