Journalism or PR? Broadsheets promote public official’s image

JEERS TO three Manila newspapers for giving undue and uncritical media attention to an elected official. The Manila Standard, the Manila Bulletin, and The Philippine Star have published several pieces promoting Senator Cynthia Villar’s activities that had little or nothing to do with legislation as news.

All three broadsheets had several pieces on Villar this July, with the Manila Standard publishing seven. The Manila Bulletin had four, while the remaining three were in The Philippine Star. In June, the month prior, the Manila Standard had seven on the senator. 

Some of these were on Villar’s activities outside her duties as a legislator, such as her participation as guest of honor in celebrations and ceremonies hosted by private organizations. 

On July 14, both the Manila Standard and the Manila Bulletin gave space to accounts of Villar’s presence at the launch of a new recycling project by Holcim, a manufacturer of construction materials. 

The Villars are real estate developers, building subdivisions in different parts of the country, so this had more to do with their private business empire. These pieces quoted exclusively from Villar’s speech, citing her self-description as “an active proponent of recycling and responsible waste management.” 

The Philippine Star’s July 25 piece “Villar backs development of digital economy” again focused on this as news about her attendance and her speech during an innovation-themed summit led by an organization of certified public accountants. The same speech was also the sole source of quotes in a July 24 piece in the Manila Standard. 

All together, the accounts made up a coordinated coverage of Senator Villar for the week. Given the main purpose of PR, these were intended simply to hype up the Senator’s image and her activities which had little to do with her work and duties as a lawmaker. 

From July 2 to 4, all three newspapers also published pieces under different bylines but nearly identical text, each one lauding the passage of local bills sponsored by Villar in the 18th Congress. Apart from the listing however, there was little scrutiny on the value of the laws passed on the establishment of multi-species marine hatcheries around the country. 

At a time of great national challenge, media space cannot be wasted on boosting the public image of public officials who can arrange for their publicity with editorial content that looks like news.

CMFR calls attention to this shameful trend as damaging to all media and to the journalists who are working hard to do their duty – and who know that that duty bars them from engaging in public relations for politicians.