Oligarch-controlled mainstream media vs cyber journalists

THE new presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Jr. in a TV interview said he hopes “to teach Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and the so-called diehard Duterte supporters the value of mainstream media to government and society.”

Roque said Uson and her followers need to understand the value of the mainstream media since “after all, it was the so-called Fourth Estate which exposed the supposed failures of the previous administration, which in turn helped catapult then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency.”

He is dead wrong. So dead wrong. The Number 1 rule for presidential spokespersons—I was one from 2001 to 2003—is to be sure of your facts, as there is an army of media people out there lusting to prove you are misinformed. The Number 2 rule: If you’re not sure of your facts, then don’t go there.

It’s unfortunate that Roque has revealed his utter ignorance of the recent history and nature of Philippine media, which it is his main, and only task really to, well, for lack of a better word, manage.

I wrote a column way back in 2013, at the height of the Yellow regime’s popularity, that reported how the kind of media Uson would join two years later and exploit to the hilt to help Duterte’s rise to power – social media – had broken President Aquino and the Yellow Cult’s hold over Filipino public opinion. (See “Cyber mosquito press rising,” July 8, 2013)

If I had been in the room where Roque claimed that mainstream media unearthed the corruption of the Aquino administration, I would have thrown a piece of hollow block at him. It was mainstream media— especially the Prieto-Rufinos’ Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Lopezes’ ABS-CBN Network—that was the propaganda arm of the Yellow regime that propagated the myth of the God-given right of the Aquinos to rule the country.

Political assassination
Worse, mainstream media was the deadly political assassination squad for the Yellows’ perceived enemies, which it demonized and took down swiftly, among them: former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Ombudsman Merceditas Guiterrez, Chief Justice Renato Corona, senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile, and finally Vice President Jejomar Binay. If not for mainstream media’s demonization of him, former Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes would not have taken his own life. The four senators and Binay, one way or another, were the political bigwigs that had threatened the Yellow regime’s survival after 2016—and therefore had to be politically assassinated.

The reason why cyberspace media people could go against the Yellow regime is obvious, if you think about it: They are not tied to the elites.

Mainstream media in this country—and even for most of the so-called developed democratic countries—has been an institution of, for, and by the elites, especially the oligarchs which essentially the Yellows represent in this country.

Roque displays so much naiveté when he romanticizes Philippine media as the democracy-loving Fourth Estate. They are controlled by oligarchs, which his boss President Duterte has all but declared war against:

• The Philippine Daily Inquirer, with its group of a dozen publications, is owned by the urban landed elite Prieto-Rufinos who controlled the Makati Mile-Long strip, the Dunkin’ Donuts shops and, until early this year, the Shakey’s pizza chain. (Did the newspaper help in getting past administrations to ignore the family’s Dunking Donuts’ P1.5-billion tax liabilities and long-expired lease on the Mile Long property?)

• The Philippine Star’s controlling shareholder now is not even a local oligarch but an international one: the Indonesian billionaire Anthoni Salim who presides over the newspaper (as well as BusinessWorld, TV 5, Bloomberg Philippines, and two dozen radio stations all over the country) through a unit of PLDT, where he is the biggest stockholder through his Hong Kong firm First Pacific, Co. Ltd. (Does Salim’s media empire help in discouraging past administrations from investigating the allegation that Salim’s firms have violated the 40 percent limit on foreign investments in public utilities?)

• The ABS-CBN broadcasting network is owned by the pre-Marcos oligarch that the Aquino-Cojuangcos resurrected, the Lopezes. Its chairman Eugenio Lopez 3rd is ranked 39th in Forbes magazine’s list of 50 Filipino billionaires. (Did ABS-CBN’s power help in getting past administrations forget the Lopez group’s alleged P1.6 billion in unpaid loans from the Development Bank of the Philippines — first exposed in 2011?)

The 41st, 42nd and 44thrichest Philippine billionaires in this list make up the triad that owns ABS-CBN’s biggest competitor, the GMA-7 broadcasting behemoth: Felipe Gozon, Menardo Jimenez and Gilberto Duavit, most of whom are directors of other huge non-media enterprises.

The oligarchy of course has not been so stupid as to ignore the rise of the new digital media. The internet-only site Rappler is mostly owned by property, mining, and energy tycoon Benjamin Bitanga. It has even secured funding from entities ultimately owned by the global elites: e-bay founder Pierre Omidyar and allegedly George Soros, through an investment in North Base Media. I keep receiving allegations that the Ayalas are really behind Rappler though.

Space for maneuver
Of course, nothing in this world is 100-percent this or that. There is space for maneuver for journalists even in newspapers controlled by the oligarchy. After all, such space hides the fact of oligarchs’ control, and propagates the myth of a free press.

But believe me, I’ve seen it working for several media outfits: The owning oligarchs in different varied ways always, always get their press peons to toe their line, when it comes to the big picture.

It is really not surprising why the oligarchs have been able to control the Fourth Estate. (Do your own research, dear Reader, to find out if the two newspapers I write columns for, this paper and Bulgar, are owned by oligarchs.)

Only the oligarchs have the huge financial resources and the political connections (for franchises in the case of television networks) needed to operate media enterprises. These have to be of a large scale because of the features of the industry, such as the high cost of paper and distribution in the case of newspapers, and capital-intensive equipment in the case of broadcast media. Rappler, I was told spent nearly P200 million just for the internet proprietary technology that allowed it to get a huge “following” in a few years’ time.

In sharp contrast, bloggers are practically lone wolves, and for those who have developed sizeable followings like Mocha Uson, Rey Joseph Nieto (“Thinking Pinoy”) and Sass Rogando Sasot (“For the Motherland”), their only expenses have been their internet connection, their time, and much expenditure of their mental energies – for a relatively long period of time, and with regularity so as it has become a habit of sorts for netizens to read their posts. Of course, they have to display intelligence, wit, and good writing to build up their following.

Their main drawback of course is that they don’t have the staff support mainstream media members normally do, even if just in the form of an editor going over and correcting their drafts, and more importantly, paring down their egos, which get easily inflated when they see they have hundreds of thousands, even a million, followers.

In this era when Filipinos are finding newspapers too expensive to buy, and even too dirty to handle, when they read mainstream media’s output only if they are posted in their Facebook walls, digital media has started to create its new Fifth Estate, rivaling the old, oligarch-controlled Fourth Estate.

Uson, RJ, and Sasot’s blogs and Facebook walls together have 6 million people who regularly read their posts. That’s 12 times more than my estimate of total broadsheet and tabloids’ circulation of 500,000 copies.

Is that good for democracy? Most definitely.

Even if it has its risks, of course. Who edits the cyber journalists? Who improves their skills and deepens their wisdom, who keeps their egos at bay? Will they resist financial temptations as they grow older?

Unfortunately, Roque doesn’t see all these developments and features of today’s media, which are very important for him to be an effective spokesman for the President.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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