OPINION: The Presidency and the Press, always a work in progress

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jul 08 2016 03:17 AM

We are Leni Robredo! We support Rody Duterte!

Leni did not vote for Rody. Neither did we. We belong to the vast majority of the electorate. The 60.09%. But Rody is now our President. We follow Leni and support the President. We wish him well. Fair, critical collaborative cooperation is also sincere support. Widespread acceptance of a competitor’s victory is an exercise in civilized grace!

In the highest levels of government, political grace is likewise beginning to churn, overcoming an initial chill that verged on uncouth chauvinism on the part of the President. The President was snobbing his Vice President! But there is now a thaw, a welcome development.

Finally, after an uncomfortable and embarrassing interregnum the President accepted his Vice President’s request for a courtesy call last Monday. The meeting was pleasant and heartwarming. “Drop by more often….you are part of the administration…..it is best that what I know of the national situation, you also know…..stand by me and help me with my work,” so expressed the President to his visitor. That encapsulates the total sense of the visit. Both even exchanged personal niceties on their common unease with unaccustomed protocol and security retinues.

And why do we know this? Because media reported it!

And why do I even point this out? Because we hope that the unspoken significance of what seems to be a cursory reportage of an event in the President’s calendar is not lost to the President and his Press Office: that media is a tool of governance. Favorably effective when regarded with civility and bestowed recognition of its role as an ‘adversarial’ ally in governance. It is a relationship that can indeed yield salutary dividends, albeit always a work in progress.

Are we belaboring a moot point? Not at all. We say this because President Duterte is the only Philippine President who petulantly picked a fight with media even before he took his oath of office. Yet, this particular reportage--President receives Vice President--portrays a softer personality, with an absence of harshness that the President is after all capable of. “Warm and kind,” the Vice President said, as reported by media.

The instance we speak of is an example of a President’s good press. Picking a fight with media is not. Besides, I dare say that it is a fight that no President in a democracy can hope to win. Such is the nature of the beast! Will this President then assign useful value to a robust, mutually respectful relations with media? We shall see.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

For the still uninitiated, legitimate journalism is engaged in the discovery and reportage of truth, faithful in its obligation to inform and better inform the citizenry. While governments are usually adept at and play games at deterring access to information (even waylaying it as in Marcos Martial Law), this particular government administration has promised the long delayed delivery of democracy-strengthening consequence of having “Freedom of Information” (FOI) in place. Much challenge will ensue in FOI’s wake and we await. 

 

(My personal appreciation of the “Freedom of Information” concept is simple: There is nothing to hide if there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear if there is nothing to hide.)

Oxymoronic it might seem but there is indeed such a relationship as “adversarial cooperation.” The Presidency and the Press. The common denominator being facts, relevant facts, the discovery and delivery (reportage) of truthful, useful information.

To belabor further a reality that is oft taken for granted, Presidency and Press must co-exist. For the people! There is no need to outwit one another. But of course, our world was not created that way! And so we must plod and slog along. Reality check: 'Adversarial' floats more prominently while 'Cooperation' needs constant coaxing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

We must take complimentary note of a recent innovation in public information. The utilization of social media as exemplified by the Facebook streaming of the Presidential inauguration, as wisely employed by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, is a good start for the Duterte administration’s endeavor towards transparency.

However, the easy availability of the nefarious side of social media must be consciously avoided. The facility and anonymity of utilizing blogging trolls can be tempting. What may have been effective on the campaign stump is not a valid prescription for actual governance.

By the way, TMI (too much information) can be a media management tactic that inundates and even obfuscates public discourse. An educated discernment therefore becomes a duty of useful citizenship which every responsible government, the churches, the educational system, media itself and the family must engender. In a freewheeling democracy, a nation’s fortune does rise or fall upon a preponderance of such collective discernment, or lack of it. The “bobotantes,” remember?

This new advent of social media in our partisan political midst has in many instances masterfully toyed with a people’s propensity for unguarded gullibility and a near normal absence of vigilance over verity.

The most dramatic effect of a recent social phenomenon is none other than the election of a President like Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, itself, whatever its import might be depending on one’s political sentiments. 

It is now openly vaunted that, among others, their campaign cabal of social media trolls and astute keyboard soldiery contributed immensely to, and is admittedly credited for, the ecstatic denouement they achieved. The Presidency’s crown!

But there must be that constant reminder: the 60.09% who did not vote for him who now vow to support him, can be fickle! We mean no malice by this assertion but prudence demands that President Duterte internalize a quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth: “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

It is a consideration, perhaps an inspiration, that a ‘charm offensive’ may just be an essential requirement for the likes of a Duterte presidency. No device in democratic governance invented by man has proven to be more effective in reaching out to the hearts of the governed than a free press.

Ideally, the Presidency and the Press ought to be a love affair, pro patria! Affectionate and cheerful, essentially, of course. But with the inevitable requisite, serially recurring interruptions of fits, spats, tantrums and sulking that contribute to the emotional maturity of a body politic both institutions are pledged to serve.

The Presidency and the Press...hush! The honeymoon is not yet over!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.