IT’S obvious that Gloria Arroyo and her media officials have no high regard for the Malacañang Press Corps.
Arroyo thinks reporters are her tools to be used for her own selfish interest. And she knows many of them enough to be confident that she can get her way. As to the hard-headed ones, the few who are not willing to be part of her cheering squad, her officials have ways to isolate them.
Malacañang’s manipulation of media was blatant in last Wednes-day’s press conference, her first in seven weeks since the Garci tapes were made public. The Malacañang reporters’ subservience was best expressed by the president of the Palace press corps, Ferdie Maglalang of the Manila Bulletin, who said, "we should thank the President for giving us part of her time to have a press conference."
Why would reporters be grateful to an official who gives a press conference? As president, Arroyo has the duty to the people to explain to the people issues confronting the country. And she does that through the media. Media’s role is to disseminate the information about the presidency so that the officials could be held accountable by the people. Media should not take that as a favor to them.
Reporters said the day before the press conference, Undersecretary Isabel de Leon distributed to the Malacañang reporters (numbering about 40) cue cards asking them to write the questions or topics they were planning to ask.
De Leon, who used to cover Malacañang for the Manila Bulletin, said such practice was "institutionalized" under Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye with the consent of the press corps for a "better flow" of questions during the press con.
Lynda Jumilla of ABS-CBN said she was compelled to submit back the cue card with "charter change" as the topic she would touch on in her question because they were told that those who would not do so would not be allowed to ask questions. Even then, Lynda was not one of the Lucky 10 that Bunye blessed.
When I was covering Malacañang during the Ramos presidency, it was Press Secretary Jess Sison who started the practice of asking reporters the topic they planned to ask. I did not particularly welcome this, but I admit that you would get a more substantial answer if they had time to research on the topic you wanted to raise. Besides, we were not compelled. If we told them the subject of our questions in advance, fine. If not, we still could ask our questions during the press con.
The set-up then was open to everybody, even to non-members of the Malacañang press corps. Anybody who wanted to ask questions would just have to approach the microphone, introduce himself or herself and the media entity he or she represented. Or you could raise you hand to be recognized by the press secretary acting as moderator.
I know that the press secretary sometimes would suggest to friendly reporters particular questions on topics they would like the President to talk about. There is, of course, the risk of being snapped at by FVR if he didn’t like your question. But as we say, that’s part of the territory. As a whole, there was no discrimination and censorship.
I attended a few press conferences by Arroyo at the beginning of her unelected presidency. There were a few times that I raised my hand to ask a question. I was never recognized by the press secretary.
In Arroyo’s press conferences, the reporters wait to be called. By agreeing to that setup, the reporters have allowed Malacañang to manage the press con, as what happened last Wednesday.
The quality of some of the questions also didn’t speak highly of the Palace reporters. Take this question: "Ma’am, I wonder where you get or where you are drawing your inner strength and weaknesses these past weeks, this political crisis that hit you?"
It was right down Arroyo’s alley: "From the Lord, from praying."
Why didn’t anybody ask where and how did she acquire the gall to cheat and to lie to Filipino nation? Why didn’t anybody ask her pointblank if she was the one talking to Comelec Commissioner Garcillano about vote padding as heard in the wiretapped tapes? Or why, two months after the Garci tapes came out, has there been no order to investigate who did the wiretapping? How true are reports that she approved the wiretapping of Garcillano because she was worried that he would sell off to the opposition?
These are matters that have caused the current political crisis. These are questions that the public wants answered.
Banning members of foreign media last Wednesday never happened even during the darkest days of the Marcos regime, Time Magazine correspondent Nelly Sindayen said.
In Arroyo’s July 26, 2005 schedule given to media, the 11 a.m. item was "press conference, for media coverage". It didn’t say "Exclusive to Malacañang Press Corps" as Bunye now claims.
In all presidential press conferences, foreign media was never excluded. Even in the luncheon meeting of Arroyo with a small group of reporters, a member of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines was sometimes included.
Isagani de Castro of Asahi Shimbun made sense when he told Malacañang media coordinators, who were shooing them out of the Ceremonial Hall, that since it’s televised anyway, why don’t they just allow them to be there even if they would not ask questions. (In FOCAP meetings, non-members may attend but only members can ask questions.). But the order from Bunye was no foreign media.
Was Bunye afraid that one of the foreign journalists would not adhere to the managed set-up and ask a question without waiting to be recognized as is done in international press conferences? That would have ruined his scripted press con indeed!
It was clear that Arroyo’s Wednesday press con was part of Malacañang’s grand plan to perpetuate the lie which is the Arroyo presidency, exposed by the Garci tapes.
They are adhering to the dictum of Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels that "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."
They must have in mind Goebbels line that " It is important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent for the truth is the mortal enemy of lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
Goebbels’ fate should not also be lost on Arroyo and her propagandists. While Soviet troops were entering Berlin on May 1, 1945, Goebbels poisoned his six children, shot his wife and then himself.
I don't know why the Arroyo press office continues to treat the local mainstream media like dirt. It's not like they're anti-Arroyo or anything. LOL.