Reporting year one of the Aquino administration

Media speak

Some members of the media, during the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s 2011 Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar, assessed the year-old Aquino administration’s governance style and how it deals with the media, and found its style problematic.

Among the major criticisms was the alleged division in the communications group and how the administration was hardly communicating with the media.

Mindanao-based journalist Jon Joaquin, managing editor of Mindanao Daily Mirror, and Carol Arguillas, MindaNews editor, said because the president seldom goes to the provinces, first-hand information on issues were far from accessible. The most the community press receives are press releases from the Philippine Information Agency which Joaquin described as “badly written.”

Meanwhile, Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, said the Aquino administration seems to be stuck in a 2010 campaign mode. Though there are initiatives to reach out to the media, she said the administration needs to discuss governance and policies clearly.

Aquino’s private life

For an administration that had promised transparent governance, Aquino emphasized the need for improved communication by reconstructing the Office of the Press Secretary as he assumed office.

He promised during his first press conference as president that he would hold regular press briefings with the members of the media. Aquino does occasionally appear before members of the media, unlike his predecessor Gloria Arroyo, who in her last years as President was practically inaccessible to journalists from media organizations critical of her administration.

But as a bachelor president, Aquino’s private life has become media fodder, with the media regularly grinding out stories on his love life and the women he’s been dating.

Aquino has complained about this alleged press focus. Ironically, however, it was Aquino himself who often mentions his desire to settle down before his term ends, which of course leads the media to report such things as who he’s recently been seen with.

In his speech during the distribution of PhilHealth cards to Iloilo citizens, for example, Aquino joked that in his quest for a “palangga (loved one),” he usually ends up finding a “planggana (basin).” He also told the people that when he was younger his first crushes were three ladies from Iloilo. Unfortunately, he said, they have since married, but he’ll be back in the next Dinagyang Festival to try his luck.

In a TV Patrol report on Aquino’s remarks in an event he addressed in Cebu, the report noted in the end that despite Aquino’s call for the media to avoid reporting on his “private life” including his love life, he himself had been talking about it in public. An Aksyon report even said that according to some analysts, the hype on Aquino’s love life might be his allies’ doing to keep him in the news.

That Porsche

During Aquino’s second SONA, he used as a symbol of abuse and wrong doing in government the “wang-wang” (siren) that police vehicles, high ranking government officials and politicians  used to clear their paths. He had prohibited the use of such sirens, including by his own entourage, early in his administration.

Aquino may have gotten a positive response from the public for his “wang-wang” directive, but when reports on his acquisition of a used Porsche sports car worth P4.5 million reached the media, many people were outraged.

In a Social Weather Stations survey conducted from March 4 to 7, 48 percent of those surveyed said Aquino’s acquisition of the Porsche was not a good example. Many said that for someone who’s asking the citizenry to tighten their belts, he should be practicing what he preaches.

Priority legislation

The media also tracked the progress of Aquino’s efforts to fulfill the promises he made during the campaign.

The site abs-cbnnews.com dedicated a microsite to do just that. As of June 2, out of 102 Aquino promises, 81 still needed to be addressed, 17 were in the process of being fulfilled, while attempts to address four were stalled.

One of the most controversial pieces of legislation the Aquino administration is pushing is the reproductive health bill (RH bill). Aquino, during the campaign expressed support for “responsible parenthood,” for which he was criticized by the Catholic Church, which is opposing the bill.

As lobbying efforts by both the anti- and pro-RH bill groups intensified, the media were almost tentative in covering the issue. Instead of going into what the bill actually contains, and its implications on public health, the media chose to emphasize such incidents as the so-called “Damaso” episode during which Manila tourist guide Carlos Celdran staged a one-man rally at the Manila Cathedral during mass. Instead of using the protest as a jump off point to discuss the contents of the RH bill, what appeared in the media were detailed reports on Celdran.

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