Should we let ‘bloggers’ report from Malacañang?
SINGAPORE — PCOO Dept. Order No. 15 allows any “social media practitioner” with 5,000 followers to be granted similar access as journalists. But audiences decide what is bought in the marketplace of ideas, not such rules.
“Bloggers’” unprecedented access has been debated since the elections. President Duterte hosted a Malacañang dinner
for “DDS” (Die-hard Duterte Supporter) “bloggers” last Feb. 7. Among them, Mocha Uson and Lorraine Badoy became assistant secretaries.
But this is not new. Former president Benigno Aquino III praised blogger Joe America in no less than his 2015 State of the Nation Address. JoeAm lunched in Malacañang with Aquino, personally picked up by spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
The debate opened 12 years ago, when the White House granted its first blogger press credential to then 23-year-old Garett Graff.
Its historic James S. Brady press room has seven rows of seven seats each. The Associated Press, Reuters and CNN have assigned front row seats. The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have second row seats. But websites Politico, The Hill and RealClearPolitics now have middle row seats. The Daily Beast and clickbait king Buzzfeed now share a seat in the back.
Last June, the White House Correspondents’ Association gave conservative cable outlets Newsmax and One America seats. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer opened phone-in “Skype seats” and gave credentials to “trolls” like “Twinks4Trump” blogger Lucian Wintrich.
From the front row, CBS’ Major Garrett criticized the dilution of substance: “More experienced reporters ask questions
that are sharper, more informed. Not, ‘What’s your message today?’ Not, ‘Here’s a paintbrush—would you paint us a
But complaints against “bloggers” are weighed using two key legal principles. First, an ordinary citizen has the same free speech rights as a trained journalist. Second, the government is also a speaker. It may say what it wants and associate with speakers it wants.
Some decry how “bloggers” are thoroughly biased and openly claim to deliver emotion-laden opinion instead of fact. But this is exactly what free speech protects.
John Stuart Mill wrote of “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” “Saturday Night Live’s” comedians criticized Spicer far more effectively than any Pulitzer-winning columnist. World War II’s greatest military speech had lines from “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country” to “[Tell your grandson] your granddaddy rode with the great Third Army and a son-of-a-goddamned-bitch named George Patton!”
Some decry alleged amplification by fake accounts and troll farms, fake news sites, and swarm cyberbullying that deters dissent. These are key problems, but with the market’s dynamics, not the actual products for sale. They are solved by educating the public, using advances in artificial intelligence to police fake speakers, and actually punishing harassers given our Cybercrime Act.
The solutions have nothing to do with prohibiting ranting like Heneral Luna instead of Apolinario Mabini.
The marketplace of ideas evolves. The demarcation between news, feature and opinion articles blurs. These coalesce into the same phone feed, along with “Thought Catalog listicles,” “Game of Thrones” spoilers and trolls.
We demand information, education and entertainment all at once. Even law journals are now criticized as less useful than blawgs, and some “legal experts” behave like “influencers” in dispensing made-for-Twitter wisdom and shallow commentary where every side is somehow correct. We hope excellent journalism keeps pace with the ever-changing, 24-hour marketplace.
Ultimately, we are free to follow “bloggers” or journalists. Malacañang is accountable solely to our choices, not any journalistic code. If we place no premium on meticulous fact checking, ensuring balance and editorial judgment—and lack of expletives — the market breakdown goes far deeper than letting anyone with Facebook Live interview Mr. Duterte.
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