Philippine media

Battle of the Stars

Gemma B. Mendoza
Battle of the Stars

DIFFERENT PARENTS. The Philippine Star and Philstar.com may share the similar logos, but they are different news organizations and are operated by different companies.

The back and forth between The Philippine Star's newspaper editor-in-chief and Philstar.com highlights the complex relationships within the STAR Group of Publications

MANILA, Philippines – On December 16, 2022, The Philippine Star newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ana Marie Pamintuan, wrote a column titled, “Scammers.” One would think she was referring to someone who had duped the public, but, no, it turned out to be a scathing blind item about someone supposedly masquerading as the Star newspaper’s boss.

In the column, she talked about people who have been “posing” as the editor-in-chief of The Philippine Star. Pamintuan pointed out the importance of a newspaper’s staff box in informing the public about levels of accountability within the newspaper.

“A newspaper,” she pointed out, “is a public trust.”

She added, “In case someone feels aggrieved by what the person deems to be irresponsible, malicious, unfair, inaccurate, biased or scurrilous commentary or reporting by The Philippine STAR, we are the ones – and I in particular, being the editor-in-chief – who can be held legally liable.”

The language she used was grave, however. Without mentioning names, she described people supposedly misrepresenting themselves as the editor-in-chief of The Philippine Star as “hustlers” who “probably need a psychiatrist, or a criminal indictment.”

There have been other instances when the Philippine Star had to post a warning about people impersonating its editor-in-chief. Below is one example.

That this was a different matter altogether, became evident when Twitter went abuzz with reactions from members of the editorial team of the website, www.philstar.com.

The website’s editorial head, Camille Diola, tweeted: “While on a tour against disinformation – which I never applied for or even sought for myself – I, too, became a subject of egregious misinformation. And there are no excuses for not having gotten their facts straight. I’m on social media and all popular and unpopular messengers.”

She added: “Suggestions out there that I scammed my way to this or any program are a serious claim against the processes and competencies of hosts, institutions or organizers.”

Other Twitter users joined the fray expressing support for Diola.

User @iamjeeno tweeted: “I’ve been w/Camille since Day 1 of the IVLP [International Visitor Leadership Program]. She has never misrepresented herself. She would always emphasize that she works for PhilStar ONLINE. I didn’t get it at first but now I know why. The editors of the paper got it wrong but Camille didn’t waste time to have it corrected.”

Diola’s colleagues also jumped in. In a tweet that included a screenshot of the staff box of Philstar.com, news editor Jonathan Santos pointed out: “Look, she doesn’t even have the privilege of being ‘editor-in-chief’ despite being chief of editors because someone kept on hassling us about it.”

What triggered the frenzy? Apparently, this was not the first time Pamintuan tackled this matter in her column. In her December 14, 2022 column that was supposed to be about bouncing back from the pandemic, she devoted two paragraphs to what was presented as “CON ARTIST ALERT.”

The day before, Victor Agustin, a former opinion columnist in the broadsheet, posted a blind item on Facebook which barely hid Diola’s identity. Agustin talked about “newsroom queens” supposedly protesting about a “travelling colleague” with a “conflated” title.

While Agustin did not name Diola, it appeared he was referring to her. His post mentioned an article published on The Independent Record, a Montana-based publication, which talked about a visit to the state capital of four Filipinos, sponsored by the US State Department “as part of a tour (across the United States) to combat disinformation.” It named the other three and referred to a fourth as “another from Philstar.com, who was identified as ‘editor in chief’ of the ‘Philippine Star’.”

At the time, Diola was participating in a tour sponsored by the US State Department’s IVLP.

The back and forth may have sounded like nothing more than juicy intrigue but it highlighted the complex relationships between media groups that are part of the STAR Group of Publications.

One name, two parents

The Philippine Star and Philstar.com may share the similar logos, but they are different news organizations and are operated by different companies.

The Philippine Star is the English-language broadsheet founded by the late Betty Go-Belmonte and Maximo Soliven in 1986, shortly after the EDSA Revolution.

According to the Media Ownership Monitor of the Philippines, a project by Vera Files, the broadsheet is operated by Philstar Daily Inc., majority of whose shares is now owned by Hastings Holdings, Incorporated, which belongs to Manuel V. Pangilinan’s (MVP) group of companies.

As of 2019, the year Vera Files conducted its study, the original owners, members of the Belmonte family represented by Miguel and Kevin, had become minority owners. Miguel and Kevin are sons of the late Betty Go-Belmonte and former House speaker Sonny Belmonte Jr., and are brothers of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte.

Miguel is the CEO of The Philippine Star newspaper in which his family now holds minority interest.

On the other hand, Kevin is the CEO of Philstar Global Corp., which runs and operates Philstar.com. According to the Media Ownership Monitor, it is owned by Hastings Holdings, Incorporated, Philstar Daily, and Azurra Prime Ventures Holdings, which is owned by the Belmonte siblings Isaac, Joy, Kevin and Miguel.

On a page about their fact check project, Philstar.com said that although the website began solely as a portal and repository of The Philippine Star newspaper, it has, since 2009, begun producing its own content independent of the newspaper and its processes.

It said that while the site continues to host articles originally published by The Philippine Star newspaper, the website’s editorial team is responsible for its original online content.

Ahead of the 2022 elections, for instance, Philstar.com participated in the Philippine Fact-check Incubator (PFCI) Program, an initiative by Internews to build up the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts. The Philippine Star newspaper, on the other hand, did not.

(Editors’ Note: Rappler was among the trainers and mentors who worked with Internews to help participating newsrooms like Philstar.com set up their fact check projects. Interaksyon, one of the brands operated by Philstar Global, is a member of #FactsFirstPH, a multi-layered collaboration to fight disinformation, which Rappler leads.)

The Philstar.com FAQ page also clarified that it is The Philippine Star newspaper, run by Philstar Daily Inc., which exercises editorial control over the newspaper’s content and select digital properties such as the Philstar L!fe website (www.philstarlife.com) and ONE News (www.onenews.ph), which is the newspaper company’s joint venture with Cignal TV.

It added that Philstar Global Corp. and the staff of the website Philstar.com “are not involved in these titles.”

(Editors’ Note: An earlier version of this story identified Interaksyon as one of the brands operated by Philstar.com. This has been corrected.)

Pamintuan’s piece was, however, published on Philstar.com, the website managed by Diola. One would wonder why the website would publish something that appeared to be an attack against its own chief editor.

Rappler learned from a source familiar with operations that this was because articles from the broadsheet are sent directly to a team of publishers.

DISCLAIMER. Stories from The Philippine Star, the broadsheet, that are published on Philstar.com carry a disclaimer that says that while Philstar.com hosts the broadsheet’s content, it has no editorial control over them.

On December 19, days after Pamintuan’s “Scammers” article came out, Philstar.com republished another Pamintuan column from the broadsheet entitled, “Devil in the details.” In the column, she explained the context of her “Scammers” column. Again, she did not mention Diola’s name.

“I don’t think the foreign publication could have plucked such details simply out of thin air,” she insisted. “Knowing this to be fake news, I forwarded the story link to relevant authorities (and several other persons), with accompanying complaint. The story was subsequently corrected.”

The following day, members of the editorial staff of Philstar.com released a video also explaining the difference between the brands and listing the unique content initiatives of Philstar.com.

Battle of the Stars

Philstar.com staff member @japtobias jokingly tweeted what he described as “supplement” graphic showing “a beginners’ guide to the philstar multiverse.”

Diola, for her part, published a post about the article on The Independent Record which carried the error that Pamintuan was griping about.

“I didn’t get to read it until that evening,” Diola explained. Her post showed screenshots of her email to The Independent Record’s editors, clarifying the difference between the two publications.

“Still, it was easy to make that mistake,” Diola pointed out. “After all, the STAR dwarfs Philstar.com – the separate corporate and editorial entity I work for – in terms of size and years. – Rappler.com

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author

Gemma B. Mendoza

Gemma Mendoza leads Rappler’s multi-pronged efforts to address disinformation in digital media, harnessing big data research, fact-checking, and community workshops. As one of Rappler's pioneers who launched its Facebook page Move.PH in 2011, Gemma initiated strategic projects that connect journalism and data with citizen action, particularly in relation to elections, disasters, and other social concerns.