Despite Palace denials, it’s more than obvious that the purpose of Executive Order 511 is to centralize in Malacanang control over all government advertising in the mass media so only “friendly” media may benefit from it.

EO 511 consolidates the advertising budgets of all government agencies under one Malacanang body called the Communication Group. What seems to have immediately provoked its issuance was the Land Bank’s having advertised in the anniversary lampoon issue of the Daily Tribune.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said he was “surprised” when he saw the Land Bank ad in the Tribune–a small opposition newspaper the Arroyo police raided and occupied during the State of Emergency from February 24 to March 3. He also said there was nothing sinister about the intent of EO511, although, “we will give everyone (meaning government agencies) the decision where they will advertise.”

The EO empowers the Communication Group to “guide, integrate and supervise the public information activities, including advertisements, of all departments, bureaus, offices and agencies in the executive branch of government, including government financial institutions (GFIs) and government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCCs).” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, who will head the Group, described the EO as perfectly innocent in intent. Malacanang only wants “to consolidate government information efforts to improve the public reach and penetration of key socio-economic programs,” he said.

If these statements from the usual suspects sound exactly like Double Speak intended to conceal the usual malevolent motives, that’s because they are. The Arroyo regime doesn’t do anything these days without any hidden purpose usually connected to its barnacle hold on power. EO 511 fits the bill.

By consolidating the advertising budgets of all government agencies including those of government-owned and controlled corporations, the regime wants to make sure no media organization critical of it will benefit from government advertising. It’s also hoping it can kill them by denying them government ads. Some government agencies have in the past advertised–as the Land Bank has–in media organizations critical of regime policies. Apparently the regime wants to put an end to the practice, in retaliation against critical print and broadcast media.

In truly democratic countries, assuring the survival of the critical media is sacred to the democratic tradition. In the European Union, for example, governments don’t discriminate between critical and supportive media organizations, and it is unthinkable for any government to harass the media. In the Scandinavian countries, opposition newspapers are not only NOT harassed, they even receive government support as a matter of long-standing policy.

The policy assumes that an administration only has temporary stewardship over government, and is duty-bound to preserve democracy through the open debate only a free press can assure. But the Arroyo regime is not likely to grasp the concept of stewardship, since it regards the government as its property for life. Hence its determination to contribute to the weakening and demise of critical media no matter what its immediate and long-term impact may be on what remains of the democracy it’s in the process of dismantling.

The assumption in Palace statements is that the regime has the right to advertise only in “friendly” media. Although that sounds logical in the perverted context of Philippine politics, it is totally unacceptable in civilized countries run by a civilized governments, since it would be a form of discrimination in conflict with the need to treat all media equally to preserve media freedom and the democratic debate.

But Palace strategists, as usual, may have outsmarted themselves. If the bottom-line basis for deciding in which media organization government agencies will advertise will be the former’s support for the regime, no government ads would go into some of the most popular media organizations–which, unfortunately for the regime, happen to be mostly critical of it.

I said “mostly critical” because even in some media organizations the regime regards as critical, there are still columnists and commentators friendly to it. In addition, professional duty compels the news sections of these organizations to still report on government, usually with the neutrality journalism standards demand.

On the other hand, the same professional imperative of reporting what’s newsworthy drives even the editors and reporters of media organizations regarded as regime-friendly. This means that information the regime doesn’t like usually finds its way into their news columns anyway. The columnists and commentators in these media organizations are not uniformly regime-friendly either.

What to do then? Channel all government ads into media organizations in which “unfriendly” information and comment manage to see print or to air, anyway? Or advertise only in media regarded as critical, but in which friendly commentators and government news nevertheless get printed or broadcast?

Decisions, decisions, decisions. What the regime and its media “experts” don’t know is that serious journalists are driven by professional and ethical standards rather than by bias or malice. This means that the Group will have a difficult time meeting its malevolent purpose and will be wasting both time and money. The regime may have based this forlorn plan on a wrong analysis of the media situation, and in the process picked up a rock to drop on its foot.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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