Questions PCOO has to answer about its bloggers accreditation policy

Pia Ranada

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Questions PCOO has to answer about its bloggers accreditation policy

Malacañang Photo

Vague wording and lack of appreciation for realities of presidential coverage plague PCOO's interim social media policy

When Palace communications officials are asked to explain the newly-signed department order allowing bloggers or “social media practitioners” to cover presidential events, one of the first things they say is that it’s only an “interim” policy subject to revisions.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar has said he is open to comments and suggestions on how to improve the policy. As it is, the two-page document has raised more questions than provided solutions given its vague wording and incompatibility with how presidential coverage is organized on the ground.

Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) members were the first to question provisions of the policy during a press conference on Thursday, August 10. Since then, there have been heated discussions, both online and offline, about a measure that could have wide-reaching effects on everything from free speech to President Rodrigo Duterte’s safety.

Where does PCOO’s Department Order No 15 leave the public hanging?

1. Why the overly-broad requirement of 18-years-old minimum age and at least 5,000 followers?

The response of PCOO Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan – that this is to make the accreditation process more “open” and “populist” – does not even begin to resolve future issues of massive applications pouring into Mocha Uson’s Social Media Office. With such sparse requirements, how does her office choose from all the applicants? What basis will be used to choose one blogger over another given the limited resources available in presidential coverage?

2. How to ensure no favoritism or discrimination against bloggers who are not close to the Duterte administration?  

Given the bare requirements, the policy leaves a lot of room for Uson or Andanar to accredit only bloggers they prefer. Ablan says there will be no favoritism, but unless something is written down as policy, nothing can prevent it from happening.

3. How does the policy take into consideration finite government resources and limitations in presidential events? 

If presidential engagements in and out of Malacañang had unlimited resources to accommodate anyone interested to cover these events, access for bloggers may not be such a big deal. But the reality is that in events attended by the country’s leader, there is only so much room.

With the large leeway given to bloggers and no requirement for them to even produce content from their coverage, how does PCOO ensure the resources devoted to bloggers don’t go to waste? What’s to stop a blogger from walking into a forum and leaving without having done anything to promote the event?

The PCOO does not impose any content requirements on journalists because they can count on media companies to demand content from their correspondents. Their policy for bloggers leaves plenty of room for free-loaders. 

4. What are accredited bloggers not allowed to do? 

The policy is vague on what counts as bloggers’ “abuse of rights and privileges extended by PCOO” and “improper use” of the accreditation. Nothing in the policy, therefore, stops bloggers from using foul language, make unfounded claims, or spread fake news.

5. Will accredited bloggers be given more access to the President than journalists?

A provision  in the PCOO guidelines states that bloggers’ accreditation will be on a per event basis. It also states that their application must be reviewed within 3 working days. But President Duterte’s schedule of activities is often sent to journalists a day or less than a day before the event.

Does this provision mean bloggers will be given the President’s schedule even before it is sent to media? Will bloggers also be required not to broadcast the schedule, just as journalists are told not to do, in order to protect the President?

6. Has PCOO considered the legitimacy it is lending to bloggers through this accreditation process? 

Secretary Andanar insisted in an Aksyon TV interview that, for the PCOO, bloggers “are not journalists.” But has he considered that accreditation puts Malacañang’s imprimatur on these bloggers and thus legitimizes them in the eyes of many?

This imprimatur can be taken as approval for the bloggers’ acts or messages. Is PCOO ready to legitimize bloggers who harass and intimidate individuals or groups online, or spread fake news, to the detriment of the citizenry?

Ablan reasons that PCOO can’t impose any code of ethics on bloggers in exchange for this legitimacy, since PCOO doesn’t impose any such code on journalists. What he doesn’t say is that journalists are already bound to a code of ethics, for instance, by the media companies they belong to, with or without PCOO. The MPC also has by-laws that prescribe disciplinary action on erring members.

Bloggers demand respect for their right to freedom of expression yet no one is saying they can’t blog if they curse or lie. Some, however, have argued that bloggers who curse and lie should not receive accreditation. Freedom of expression is a right but gaining Malacañang accreditation is a privilege.

7. How will PCOO arrange press conferences with journalists and bloggers? 

Journalists covering Malacañang attend almost daily press briefings held by Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella and at least one government official as guest. Ablan said the idea of the bloggers’ policy is to allow them to cover such press conferences as well.

How will the PCOO limit the number of bloggers who will attend, given limited space in the press briefing venue?  If there is not enough space, who will get bumped off, journalists or bloggers? How will time be divided during the question and answer portion? 

This is not even considering press conferences called by Duterte himself, when there will definitely be intense competition for his attention and his responses. 

These questions pose a challenge to PCOO to craft a bloggers’ accreditation policy that balances all interests and concerns, but which, first and foremost, protects the interest of the public. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.