Some Palace reporters question guidelines for accrediting bloggers to cover Duterte

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Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan

Story updated to include revised headline. The Malacañang Press Corps has yet to issue a statement on the government's accreditation policy.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 10) — Journalists covering President Rodrigo Duterte questioned Palace media officials over a new policy that will allow bloggers with a following of more than 5,000 to cover presidential events.

Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan on Thursday faced a slew of questions from reporters from so-called "mainstream media" – news agencies accredited to cover Malacañang Palace and President Duterte.

"Hindi ba binabalahura 'yung institution na knowing presidential, tapos kung sinu-sino na lang 'yung i-a-accredit natin dito? [Isn't the institution being disrespected knowing that this is the presidential beat, then we are just accrediting any person?]" asked Bandera reporter Bella Cariaso during the Palace briefing.

Joseph Morong of GMA 7 also asked if personalities such as comedienne Ethel Booba or social media activist Juana Change may be assured of acccreditation.

Ablan replied, "All right. So if Ethel Booba and Juana Change have at least 5,000 followers, that they can prove that they publish regular content, original or news content, and they're Filipino citizens, and they're at least 18 years of age, and they passed PSG clearance, then yes, they can cover the President."

Pia Ranada of Rappler asked to clarify the standards on covering Presidential events and the violations that accredited social media users may incur.

"So as of now, bloggers are allowed to use profane language, write fake news with the policy?" she asked. When Ablan replied no, Ranada asked again, "So what are the standards? How exactly do we implement quality control over the people we give access to the President?"

The outcry came a day after the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) announced that it will allow bloggers and social media practitioners to cover events attended by President Duterte. The order will allow Filipino citizens at least 18 years old to cover for free, but requires them to have not less than 5,000 followers on their social media platforms.

Read: PCOO to accredit bloggers for Presidential coverages

Cariaso said that "mainstream media" journalists disagreed with the policy.

"Against ang mainstream media dito sa accreditation ng mga bloggers sa Malacañang," she said. "And for the record din, sa ibang beat, ayaw din nila ito."

[Translation: Mainstream media is against the move to give accreditation to bloggers to cover Malacañang. And also, for the record, journalists in other beats don't like this.]

However, the Malacañang Press Corps has yet to issue a statement on the issue.

Ablan said other stringent requirements for blogger-applicants to cover Malacanang would be in place.

"If you have 5,000 followers, 10,000 followers, 100,000 followers, but you cannot prove that you produce original content on a regular basis, then you will not be given accreditation," he said.

Having it easy

Mainstream media had to earn their stripes to be able to cover the President, which is considered a prestigious beat.

"Supposed to be 'pag mainstream ka, magsisimula ka sa police, magsisimula ka sa mga mabababang beats, so talagang special talaga 'yung mabi-beat ka sa Malacañang," Cariaso said.

"Tapos kayo, porke't 5,000 na 'yung followers, i-a-accredit niyo na? Tapos ang mga journalists, kumukuha ng four-year course, Mass Comm, Journalism, para lang makakuha ng trabaho na kagaya nitong magbi-beat," she added.

[Translation: When you're a mainstream reporter, you're supposed to start in "lower" beats like writing police stories, so it's really special if you get the Malacañang beat. Then you bloggers, just because you have 5,000 followers, you get accredited already. And journalists have to study four-year courses in Mass Communication or Journalism just to get a job like this.]

Ablan replied that although he understands the years that mainstream media practitioners go through to become a Palace reporter, the rise of citizen journalism in social media could not be ignored.

'We have to recognize new media and the influence and they're able to share news from Malacañang and from the President," he said. "And there has to be some way where we're able to legitimately recognize the coverage of their President."

He added the President supported the blogger accreditation policy.

"Ang may gusto (nito) pati 'yung Presidente (Even the President wants this) because if you noticed that a lot of bloggers who supported him during the campaign, the President opened up Malacañang to them."

The PCOO's Social Media Office – headed by Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, an entertainer and a blogger with a following of more than five million on Facebook who supported President Duterte during his campaign – will issue the accreditation.

The accreditation is open to bloggers who support or oppose the Duterte administration.

Ethics, accountability

Meanwhile, other reporters asked if accredited bloggers would be subject to the same ethical and journalistic standards that mainstream media reporters follow.

"Will PCO implement rules on objectivity and ethics in delivering news?" asked Philippine Star reporter Tina Mendez.

"I don't think we impose any rules on ethics on the Malacañang Press Corps," he said. "You are self-governing, so we expect the same from the bloggers who will be accredited."

Ablan added that the bloggers requested the PCOO not to dictate the kind of stories they produce.

"When we held consultation, the social media bloggers actually said that we should not control the content of whatever they write," he said. "So as the policy, we deleted that phrase wherein they have to write. There is no requirement for them to write, but they will be able to cover the President and PCO activities."

Ablan also said violations of journalistic principles, such as using profanity, will be prohibited, even though it is not explicitly stated in the accreditation guidelines.

"There is a presumption that when you are given accreditation, that you will conduct yourself like an ordinary, law abiding Filipino citizen," he said. "There is no need to express the state that you're not supposed to use profanity in any of your articles."