Vloggers at Malacanang, Really?

By Junel F. Fiestada

Cartoon by John Dave Poot

Covering events in the Malacañang must be a hard-to-get assignment for journalists, thus giving the green light to non-journalists will make the palace an open paradise for anyone with or without proper studies in journalism. The palace is not some sort of place for “Marites”, trolls, and gossip mongers. It is a place where the truth must be relayed without added or spliced contents. This is why media accreditation of social media vloggers is preposterous.

In light of the growing criticisms from professional journalists and netizens, pro-government and pro-Marcos vloggers are going overboard as they form the United Vloggers and Influencers of the Philippines (UVIP). The UVIP is said to be seeking accreditation from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with their constitution, by-laws, and ethics on study and formalization. They also claimed that they will not be biased, even if their published videos suggest that they are pro-Marcos. This in itself is an irony to legitimate UVIP in the palace because there is no assurance that they will not be biased or unfair in dealing with issues, given that they are partisan like SMNI and Net25. The fact that they are pro-Marcos violated the rules of Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) that prohibits them from lobbying, public relations, and partisanship. 

The so-called “vlogger accreditation” is the “priority” of incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) secretary, lawyer, and vlogger Trixie Cruz Angeles. Angeles said they are “pushing for the accreditation of vloggers to be invited to some of the briefings, especially those conducted by the President-elect [Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.].” Her predecessor, outgoing PCOO secretary Martin Andanar, also attempted to accredit social media users or “netizens” to access Malacañang events last 2017. The PCOO said anyone aged 18 years old with more than 5000 followers on social media platforms can apply, free-of-charge, in the accreditation process.

If the accreditation of vloggers in the palace will push through in the next administration, the Marcos-Duterte and the team will not build allies for the people, but allies for themselves. Vloggers and bloggers can become the administration’s mechinery in peddling narratives to put the administration in a good light, just like how a pro-Duterte vlogger gained access to cover President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Russia last 2017. Vloggers are also experts in shifting the tide of public opinion by using provocative words against someone, and they can sugarcoat the statements of the administration to make them favorable to them.

Angeles said that they are considering social media engagements in accrediting vloggers in the palace. However, this is problematic because more than popularity, veracity must be considered. Several vloggers, despite their gained traction and popularity on social media, are ignorant of media ethics for the sake of social media metrics. When mere social media metrics overweigh professionalism, decency, honesty, and accuracy of the news or any article weaken.

Ironically, Angeles failed to give a concrete answer whether all journalists will be allowed to physically cover the events of the late dictator’s son. “I think we’ll have to take a look at existing policies first and determine and make a decision later on as to how appropriate they are for the current time,” she said. Her answer is a foreshadowing of the administration’s treatment of the media. If they consider vloggers to cover events in the palace, how come they cannot give a direct answer and plan whether all journalists can physically cover events? Giving authority to non-journalists to cover Palace’s whatabouts is a clear disrespect to professional journalists. Pia Ranada’s case can be cited as she was barred from entering the entire Malacañang complex in 2018.

The idea of vlogger accreditation is not new to PCOO because it has been considered by the former Aquino administration. However, in an interview with ANC last 2017, former presidential spokesperson secretary Edwin Lacierda scrapped the idea. "As a journalist, you're not supposed to write your opinion. You follow a set of standards. You have accountability. Who's going to be accountable if you (blogger) make a mistake?" he insisted.

Given Lacierda’s point, how can we be certain that vloggers will be held responsible and accountable for the information they release? They don’t have ethical and editorial standards to follow, thus jeopardizing the accuracy of published articles. Perhaps, the worst case scenario pro-administration vloggers can attain is probing by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Instead of them being jailed for spreading false content, they can get off with just probes just like in the case of Mocha Uson. The NBI once probed Uson for fake news over her claim that the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was government-sponsored when it was later found out that it was donated by the SM Foundation. Despite calls from netizens and professionals like former Solicitor General Pilo Hilbay to arrest Uson for violating the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, Uson was not arrested.

Moreover, citing the recently-concluded national and local elections, TikTok has been used as leverage to spread false information. The said platform has more than 76 million users and sadly, it has enabled the proliferation of fake news and left the peddler unaccountable for their crime. 

In addition, a research by Justin Muyot of the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center entitled “Narratives and Tactics in Alternative Online Videos” suggests that Marcos supporters who spread misinformation and disinformation dominate the YouTube platform. Peddlers of fake news took advantage of the platform to program narrative in favor of Marcos. The study also shows that vloggers use clickbait so that viewers will engage in their posts. As a matter of fact, he has seen a trend wherein Marcos’ opponents in the elections were slandered or disgraced.

When the truth is covered with lies, people absorb it like a sponge. Allowing Filipinos to be further exposed to disinformation which makes them confused as to what the truth really is. When ABS CBN was closed during the height of the pandemic in 2020, many supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte expressed their “gratitude” as their so-called “ABiaS-CBN” was halted from operating. The same reaction radiated when Rapper CEO Maria Ressa was convicted of a libel case. These reactions were generated as these media have been critical towards the government and for many, the term “bias” describes someone or something that opposes the administration. Despite myth-busting done by the media to disrupt red-tagging and fake accusations on ABS-CBN, some Filipinos side with their “convenient information” providers.

This is the power social media upholds and when weaponized, in no time, journalism will be seen as public relations more than a machinery to vanguard truth and justice. This is the byproduct of disinformation machinery that maligns public opinion in believing that journalists do nothing but criticize the government or report the shortcomings of the administration. This growing distrust washes off the integrity of journalism. Therefore, journalists have to also step-up their reportage and storytelling. The journalists’ job does not end just by writing an article, it goes beyond catching up to the emerging techniques vloggers use to magnetize people into engaging in their posts. TikTok has already been filled with lies and narratives, especially in the recently-concluded election. It is time for journalists to enter the Tiktok space. One of the journalists who made a name on TikTok is Rappler’s Rambo Talabong who debunks fake news about the Martial Law regime.

However, journalists and media outlets must be cautious in adapting the “vlogger-style reporting” to relate to the audience as it may endanger the veracity of the news with their ways of clickbait and foul terms. NET25, Iglesia ni Cristo’s Eagle Broadcasting Company (EBC) has been under fire for their brazen and unprofessional commentary on Robredo's sisters, calling them “kulang sa pansin.” In a Rappler report, the news outlet also used insulting and hateful words to describe Vice President Leni Robredo and her supporters by using words such as: “epic fail,” “pinklawan,” and “bitter.” The network used derogatory words 22 times, from January 1, 2022 to May 31, 2022 to attack Robredos and praise the Marcoses.

Moreover, the administration must be decisive in putting people in the palace because Filipinos, now more than ever, deserve to know the steps of the government and whether the news they are receiving is fabricated or fake. They must place “real journalists” because a vlogger is only a vlogger when it is convenient, but a journalist will always be a journalist amidst life-and-death situations. 

Journalists have the utmost right, more than anyone, to cover in the palace compared to vloggers because they don’t fall in the same job categorization and description. Hindering vloggers to cover events in Malacanang is not a form of curtailing freedom of expression, but a precautionary measure to ensure that every bit of information we read is written by a professional with assurance of its veracity and fairness.
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