Bloggers, journalists react to proposed social media policy

By Frances Josephine Espeso

Bloggers and media practitioners expressed concerns and criticisms Thursday at a town hall forum presenting the initial draft of the social media policy proposed by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).

These concerns included the accreditation of “social media publishers” for coverage of Malacañang events, possible content regulation, the parameters for defining “social media publishers,” and the policy’s contribution to the overall discourse on social media.

In the forum held at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Bahay ng Alumni, blogger Arpee Lazaro suggested a few more benefits beyond what Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan mentioned during the presentation of the policy.

“Magkaroon sana ng national registry of accredited bloggers or social media users,” Lazaro said, suggesting check marks appearing next to names of accredited Facebook pages.

Benefits for accredited social media publishers—those with at least 1000 followers and subscribers and have been publishing original news and information consistently and regularly for at least 12 months—include on-site access to PCOO events and activities such as news briefings, interviews and inclusion to the mailing list for PCOO press releases.

The policy also grants social media users—people who maintain social media accounts and communicate and share news, information and opinions online using these accounts—eligibility for PCOO social media volunteer programs and trainings.

The blogger also mentioned the proposed policy’s condition of accredited social media pages sharing all press releases sent by the PCOO, among others.

“Kung accredited ka, sana bigyan ka ng pagkakataon na mamili kung anong press releases yung gusto mong ilabas,” Lazaro said.

“Hindi ka naman pupwedeng maglabas ka nalang ng press release kahit hindi naman relevant sa blog mo,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rey Joseph Nieto of political blog Thinking Pinoy said PCOO should define an arbiter who would validate the truthfulness of the news and information published by accredited social media publishers.

According to the social media policy, one of the responsibilities of accredited social media publishers is to “validate the truthfulness of the news content that they generate, publish and share.”

“While it’s true po that we have to exert every effort para siguruhin na tama at walang sablay ang mga pina-publish natin sa ating mga platforms, hindi po malinaw rito kung sino ang magdedecide kung na-validate ba o hindi ang isang posting,” Nieto said in a video presented during the forum.

He also asked if this responsibility is also required of the Malacañang Press Corps(MPC), a group of accredited media practitioners who regularly cover Palace events.

“Isa po rin yan sa issue sa equal protection. Kung ano po ang karapatan o pribilehyo na ineenjoy ng MPC, dapat po ay ineenjoy din ng mga taga-Malacanang Social Media Press Corps,” Nieto said. “Otherwise, undue discrimination po iyon na as far as I know, hindi po siya constitutional.”

The blogger also saw as undue discrimination the prohibition of accredited social media publishers to commercially endorse or promote any product, service or publication, saying that mainstream media are allowed to do so.

Meanwhile, Stella Estremera, editor-in-chief of Mindanao community daily Sun.Star Davao, said the policy is well-intentioned; however, its regulatory nature is unnecessary, especially when it comes to the social media publisher’s content.

“Look, what you can control is how a blogger…will comport himself in an event,” she said, citing required dress codes in government events as example.

“But whatever ang susulatin niya, yung behaviour niya outside your event, [hindi] niyo na hawak,” she added.

Section 7C of the draft policy prohibits accredited social media publishers to post sexual content, foul language and false information, among others.

“Pero yun ang role ng blogger. Magmura para sa mga tao,” Estremera said, prompting cheers from the audience.

On the other hand, University of the Philippines Journalism professor Teresa Congjuico criticized the riskiness of using social media to disseminate news and information as social media can fall victim to “paid hacks or bots” or be used as propaganda tools.

“News reporting, fact-based story-telling, and the dissemination of vetted and fact-checked information are journalism functions which only organized newsrooms could accomplish,” Congjuico said in a Facebook status.

In PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar’s keynote speech, he said that while he acknowledged the “seasoned experience” of mainstream media in covering matters of public importance with accuracy and fairness, the policy also considers other interest groups and stakeholders in the coverage of Malacañang events.

“I have been vocal about wanting to allow social media personalities to witness and cover for themselves some of the administration’s events that would be of interest to the general public,” Andanar said.

He also said in a meeting early this month that President Rodrigo Duterte greenlit a group of bloggers’ request to access Palace events.

“With the many problems that beset the country, from illegal drugs to criminality to corruption… all forms of media are tasked to let the public know what is going on,” Andanar said.

Both Andanar and Ablan told the audience that having a social media policy is not a sole Philippine initiative.

Andanar mentioned Garrett Graff, an American blogger and former editor-in-chief of Politico magazine. Graff was the first US blogger to be accredited by the White House in 2005.

“Ang social media policy ay hindi po bago sa mundo,” Ablan said.

“Marami pong mga gobyerno, marami pong mga korporasyon, pati mga eskwelahan, ang may social media policy,” he added.

References included in the policy document come from New Zealand, United Kingdom, the US Department of Interior and the State University of New York.

The Presidential Communications assistant secretary also reiterated that the policy discussed is just an initial draft and would still be subject to changes.

According to the PCOO’s press release after the town hall forum, the office will be announcing the results of the forum and its next step. #

(Photo grabbed from Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Kristian Ablan’s Twitter account.)

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