Pushback on bully boys

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Traditionally, the job of a spokesperson has been to communicate and announce policies and decisions or to give clarifications when needed. Unfortunately, some twisted individuals in the past used the position to be propagandists and virulent defenders of those they represented primarily to ingratiate themselves or to curry favor from powers that be or as a means to stay in the limelight for publicity sake or in search of public office. Some chosen individuals have even parlayed or traded their reputation, looks and public persona to clients who had tattered reputations, devoid of integrity or people who had a face that not even their mothers could trust. Love, yes – but trust, No. After half a century, the profession, if we may call it that, has gone from professionalism and respect and deteriorated to something reminiscent of outlaw mining towns where mercenaries roam and practitioners shoot first while holding their press conferences or ambush interviews.

Of late, some individuals have been disparaging and combative in their reaction to perceived criticism or trespass of their domain. There was a time when people would say: “Don’t shoot the messenger” but in today’s world and politics it is the messengers in the person of spokespersons who do the shooting. Instead of merely delivering the message or politely and professionally making needed clarifications, they now act like Alpha animals “pissing” on people as they go about marking their territory and authority, dismissive and combative of the media or those who do not share their views, or those who have their own views and share with the public without so much as a “By your leave” from now offended spokespersons.

Of course there is a big difference between true professionals versus political appointees or court jesters. The true professional understands that while they may be the mouthpiece they are not necessarily “it” or the person in-charge. They are the messenger. They are not supposed to act as “lawyers” for the defense, political prosecutors or interpreters in a dialogue where everybody speaks the same language but not necessarily share the same values or politics. Whatever form it may be done, lawyering by spokespersons is a self-defeating exercise because you are no longer just a messenger, you are now a manipulator.

Unfortunately very few people in the Duterte administration seems to have read the wise counsel of our senior columnist Boo Chanco, who has repeatedly said the biggest mistake in choosing a spokesperson is to choose a lawyer. I know that Boo does not mean to disparage the legal profession but is simply pointing out that lawyers are trained to defend their client whether they are innocent or guilty and will use every trick in the book to do so. In effect, their training and credibility works against them. To such great advise I would add, media people or practitioners do not automatically qualify as spokespersons. Many of us can talk confidently until the sun comes down but that is in a controlled environment that we control, where we are asking the questions and where we are pushing the buttons. But in some cases, when it’s the other way around, some media people don’t react calmly or kindly when someone is pushing their buttons.

There is also the misconception that if you hire a media practitioner as a PR or spokesperson, they will immediately get the support and camaraderie of the media in general. Big mistake. The only time that happens is if the spokesperson decides to be chummy, fully transparent and practically hand feeds the media. Otherwise, he eventually gets treated like any public official and experiences regular doses of the medicine he or she use to dish out to government officials and public personalities. Unfortunately, a number of spokespersons of recent vintage have reacted combatively when critics and the public started challenging their views or positions. Rather than diplomatically handling incidents or misunderstandings, we have seen a couple of spokespersons publicly take swipes at reporters as well as fellow government institutions. This aggressive and intimidating behavior all falls under what we call Bully Boy tactics. It has reached a point that some government officials have copied President Duterte’s style of publicly calling out people he does not like or disdain. The difference here is that spokespersons for government carry messages, communicate plans, etc. They are not the boss and nothing in the annals of public relations or job description of a spokesperson allows for ill manners, aggression or intimidation.

While they may disagree with me, these spokespersons are now beginning to reap what they sow if not the whirlwind of their ill manners. We have recently seen how two groups within the University of the Philippines have stood up and pushed back against the posturing or behavior of spokespersons Harry Roque and Benny Antiporda towards scientists in the academic community. Roque recently called out the UP OCTA group for making recommendations to help control the spread of COVID-19 in certain provinces. Antiporda, on the other hand, hit back at scientists who commented on the pointless use of dolomite sand on Manila Bay. But unlike before when members of the academe were easily intimidated if not scared of the Duterte shadow, people have learned to differentiate between the President and some political appointees who are either becoming full of themselves or trying to puff up their status. They now know who the fly is and who the carabao is. So we see and read pushbacks against the Bully Boys. When that happens, it’s no longer fun in the playground for them.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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