PCOO to accredit social media publishers, users

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — What does it take to go inside the Malacañang gates and report everything that happens there?

Soon, it will only be a certain number of followers.

After blogger Rey Joseph Nieto, who is behind Thinking Pinoy blog, asked President Rodrigo Duterte directly for social media users to gain access to Malacañang press briefings, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) drafted a social media policy.

"This is for social media users  to gain first-hand information on the latest events in Malacanang," Nieto said in Filipino.

The 10-page working draft policy discussed the guidelines for PCOO employees who have access to the website and social media accounts. It also imposes a conduct which should be observed when people post on the agency's platforms.

Some of these are nondisclosure of confidential information, endorsement of commercial products, services, or political parties, use of offensive and provocative language, and dissemination of fake news.

According to the social media policy draft by the PCOO, "social media publishers are media workers who should be recognized and protected" since the agency sees the new media as a "form of public communication and one source of information."

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said Presidential Spokesperson Martin Andanar recognizes the influence of social media in electing President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ablan said there is an "overwhelming … positive response to support a government policy for accrediting social media bloggers and influencers," citing a PCOO Facebook poll that used emojis which gathered around 15,000 votes.

'Malacanang Social Media Press Corps'

According to the draft policy, two kinds can be accredited: social media publishers and users.

Social media publishers are those who maintain "publicly-accessible social media page, blog or website … whose principal advocacy is the daily dissemination of original news and/or opinion of interest."

Meanwhile, social media users are those who "maintain a social media account where they express their opinions, viewpoints, commentaries and share news and other information."

Accreditation for social media publishers will allow "faster processing for on-site or access passes to PCOO events and activities," and "inclusion in the PCOO-Social Media Office mailing list."

Accredited social media users will be included in "PCOO participatory governance and media volunteer programs."

"It is basically occasional access, they were not asking for permanent recognition," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said. "They were not asking for recognition with the Malacanang Press Corps (MPC). They simply wanted to come and observe at the right time."

The MPC is a group of accredited media practitioners from different platforms and institutions who regularly cover events related to the President.

But Nieto countered this, saying accredited social media publishers and users should have the same privileges with the MPC.

"Kung ano po ang karapatan at pribilehiyo na ine-enjoy ng MPC, dapat po ay ine-enjoy din ng mga taga-Malacanang Social Media Press Corp, otherwise, undue discrimination po iyon na as far as i know, hindi po siya constitutional," Nieto said.

Abella said Duterte recognizes social media as a "force."

"It is a  reasonable medium, it's not just a technological hiccup. It is actually a new form of communications which has to be rightly recognized with its own integrity," Abella said.

Bloggers as journalists

But Journalism professor and University of the Philippines - College of Mass Communication College Secretary Teresa Congjuico said accreditation is tantamount to acknowledging bloggers as journalists.

"This is the reason they will be given access to press events and are expected to publish government press releases in their blog sites. And worse, they could be unwittingly used for propaganda," Congjuico said.

Lawyer Jose Jesus Disini, one of the panelists, said accrediting social media bloggers lends them legitimacy, which since social media can be a "source of bad information."

"We can say that MPC is given the entitlements they have … because their role is to provide an unvarnished look. Now, if you're a blogger on social media, you're not bound by those rules," Disini said.

He added social media users present their opinions, which reflect their own biases.

"(People are saying) let there be ethics for social media because … although we get good information on social media, social media itself is a source of bad information," he added.

Congjuico said said this will be problematic since social media users do not have accountability to anyone.

Validating truthfulness of posts

"Do social media users have editors who can point out to them their  personal biases and spot errors of fact and substance?  Do they even know their journalism ethics? These things separate journalism from blogging. Bloggers are not journalists," Congjuico said.

Thinking Pinoy blogger Nieto said it is unclear who will validate the truthfulness of posts.

The assistant secretary said they might take back accreditation if social media users post fake news since it might be attributed to PCOO.

"We expect, if you want to be accredited, that you will be reporting true news. Authentic, verified news kasi we are accrediting you to be our volunteer reporter," Ablan said.

De la Salle Political Science professor Antonio Contreras, however, said there are laws to hold people accountable, such as libel.

"Bakit ang mga mainstream media nagdidistribute ng fake news hindi naglolose ng accreditation," he said.

It should be curative instead of punitive, saying social media users should just publish errata like mainstream media.

Number of followers as requirement

Additional requirements for social media publishers is to have "at least 1,000 followers or subscribers, and which (have) published regularly and consistently for a period of 12 months."

These requirements were met with contentions from different sectors.

Rose Beatrix Cruz-Angeles, who maintains her own blog, argued certain terminologies in the requirements. Angeles is National Commission for Culture and the Arts - National Committee on Monuments and Sites vice chairman

"Followers does not equal reach…My new blog page has 6,000 followers and a 350,000 reach. So followers and longevity in blogging do not necessarily make for credibility or 'accreditability,'" Angeles said.

Nieto also said it might not make some pages eligible for accreditation.

"Alam naman po natin na karamihan po sa mga kritiko ng administrasyon ay kakaunti lamang ang mga Facebook likes. So para po mapagbigyan naman sila, babaan nalang po natin ng 50,000 yung requirement po sa mga followers or likes," he said.

By the end of the forum, Ablan said they will call for another event to present the final draft, for signing by PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar.