Premature campaigning via media: Spotlight on incumbents gives them pre-campaign boost

OVER TWO whole months before the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections, some politicians are already going to great lengths to keep their names in the media. 

News organizations are tracking emerging alliances, noting declarations of intent, and picking up hints from politicians about their plans for 2022. Although many have yet to be definite about their intentions,  the media nevertheless publicize their names, thus keeping them in the public mind. 

CMFR’s content analysis shows more air time and print space have been given those incumbent officials eyeing higher office in the upcoming polls. President Duterte confirmed on July 8 that he is “seriously thinking” running for VP, a step down from his present position. His daughter’s campaign kicked off as early as February this year, although Mayor Sara Duterte (Davao City) has chosen to keep the media and everyone else guessing about her real plans. 

Duterte has endorsed as a “presidentiable” his former aide-turned-senator, Bong Go, more than once, enough to assure regular coverage of everything Go does in some publications. And before leaving for the US to train for his next fight, boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, titular head of PDP-Laban, took offense when party leaders did not seem to welcome him as their presidential candidate and went on to allege rampant corruption in various agencies right under Duterte’s nose. 

With a lighter touch, media also featured puff pieces amplifying political posturing and all kinds of premature campaigning. 

CMFR reviewed all reports on prospective candidates and voter pre-election stories from (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas and CNN Philippines’ News Night), the leading Manila broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin), as well as three other selected broadsheets (The Daily Tribune, The Manila Times, The Manila Standard) for a week-long period from July 5 to July 12, 2021.

Only one story was about Comelec’s perceived voter turnout during the entire week, while a total of 137 reports focused on prospective candidates and political personalities.

Of the 137 reports, 65 or 47 percent were about political moves, the posturing of politicians, tentative hints about the intent to run, some outright declarations of intent and other forms of political maneuvering to form alliances and coalitions.

Forty-eight reports (35 percent) focused on the PDP-Laban party infighting as the president and fellow Mindanaoan Pacquiao engaged openly in a word war.  

The remaining 23 reports (17 percent) were puff pieces aimed at boosting the publicity mileage of prospective candidates. PR pieces are generally generated by campaign teams, some have news value, but their news worthiness has not been the main consideration, in the editors’ putting them on the pages of The Star, The Tribune and The Times.

Most reported personalities

Duterte and his allies, as well as Pacquiao, topped the list of the most reported candidates and political personalities in the monitored period of coverage.

(CMFR notes that all monitored news organizations reported on Pacquiao’s upcoming boxing fight, but did not include sports news in the news-hole in either print or broadcast.)

The overdrive in reporting pre-campaign politics needs to be checked as this yields the campaign arena to those already in office, given the natural advantage enjoyed by the incumbent and his allies. Despite term limits, Duterte seems set on extending his hold on power, either as an ex-chief executive in the office of VP, or through a proxy via his daughter or his lackey. This kind of coverage could make that outcome inevitable. 

The situation calls for the media to create a more even playing field in candidates’  competing for the people’s vote, and for voters’ making rational choices on who to lead the country.