Competition that kills cooperation
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - May 27, 2020 - 12:00am

A team must be competitive but should never compete against themselves.

We all know that to be true and have been taught that rule by different mentors and coaches because it is team spirit, not individual talent or personal motives, that gets the job done and piles up the scores.

What I’m about to write has nothing to do with sports. It is something I’d much prefer not to write about, but in the face of our national and global health disaster, the last thing we need is a bunch of people sneaking their own agenda and sabotaging or undermining the cooperation between the media and the government. Ever since the world declared war against COVID-19, we can safely say that media practitioners and institutions have gone the extra mile to help governments and experts to disseminate all the necessary information so that the public will know, understand and cooperate in the containment and prevention of infection. In the Philippines, we started out as a wrestling tag team of sorts where the IATF and the President would give well timed pronouncements on the first moves against COVID-19. The print and broadcast media would then go out gather more information from around the world and from health experts and consolidate all of that into various forms of materials, reports and interviews.

After a few weeks, the IATF figured out that the public and the media needed a better organized and scheduled virtual press conference or “Pressers” that would further compliment the information gathering and dissemination schedules of the media in general. It was also a timely move that recognized the need for social distancing and the quarantines that have been put in place. That was all great, logical and highlighted the cooperation between the government, the IATF, and the media. Unfortunately things took a strange turn when the “Pressers” turned into an actual “News and Current Affairs” program with no less than Secretary Martin Andanar and Usec. Rocky Ignacio standing or sitting as the program’s host an hour before lunch. Strange I say because both officials have more important responsibilities than to be TV hosts. As someone pointed out, “their job is to give answers and not to be asking them.” Nonetheless, I simply wrote it down as Martin being creative and maximizing the potentials of the PCOO, which he heads.

However, things have gone from strange to a direct competition with mainstream media. The government’s Presser/News and Current Affairs program has gone from around 11 am via PTV-4 and now transitions to the midday or 12 noon to 1 o’clock pressers of the IATF featuring the Presidential spokesperson. Yesterday, I heard a radio reporter of DZBB refer to the program saying that the Presidential Spokesperson has invited a “guest” to the show in the person of Baguio City Mayor Benjie Magalong. So not only has the government shifted from being the news source, it has now invaded the world and work of journalists and broadcasters, effectively boxing out the long established programs of many media outlets. Except for early risers and multimedia newshounds such as myself, most Filipinos get their first shot of news and information during lunch. With Malacañang taking over that time slot, they have become the dominant and first source of information. A number of reporters have also complained that their questions are thoroughly filtered or “salang-sala” and the answers are prepared in advance resulting in replies that sound more like propaganda than anything.

This is disrespectful and dangerous. This “box out” move is an insult to mainstream media but even worse forces the media to make a choice between cooperation or competition. Right now, the media is giving government priority in information dissemination but that was when government provided the data and was the news source. In recent times, the useful data has been drowned out by banter, opinion even propaganda using resource persons to help support or prop up policies and ideas of the different departments in the IATF. It amazes me that the KBP or Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster sa Pilipinas has not spoken against this blatant and tactical trespass into the midday newscast. Given the recurring nightmare of ABS-CBN losing their franchise, the KBP might be having second thoughts about rocking the boat and risking their 47-year-old strategic alliance with government. Unfortunately, just like China, Malacañang has already occupied our air space not just once a day but twice a day!

To their credit, those behind this sneak attack earns high marks in their “In your face subtlety”. ABS CBN loses its franchise, but it’s not Malacañang’s fault, blame it on Congress or SolGen Calida. After that, the immensely popular IATF spokesperson Karlo Nograles was removed and replaced by virtue of an executive order granting the new spokesperson as the only authorized speaker for the President and the IATF. Not only did that make Secretary Roque the center of the IATF information universe, that effectively gave him choice and control of who in media gets to be blessed with his presence and authority. The rest of us will simply have to scrounge around for sources and guests who have no regard for “The Memo”. We’ve seen such moves and memos in the past and it comes with the territory. But the blatant “box out” move of Malacañang not only competes with the media; it disrupts a long established ritual of how and when the entire Filipino nation gets it news and information. This practice must be stopped. Either the government goes back to their regular programming and stop meddling with “ours”, or we pick and choose and delay the airing of banter and propaganda. That is what happens when “competition kills cooperation.”

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