I started doing public relations work when I was only 19 years old. That was in 1990, more than 26 years ago. Back then the work was simple – get a client, make a media plan, write your stories, send them to the media, pray they come out in the papers.
There was no social media – no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram – just plain old wordstar, a dot-matrix printer, and good-old-fashioned charm and a lot of leg work. There was also no way for people to talk back, react, acknowledge, or reject what we put out.
It was a good start and it helped that I worked for an established publicist who had tons of connections with all the right editors, columnists, reporters, photographers, and the people necessary to put out the paper everyday. Many of whom their readers will never get to know, but whose work was treated as gospel truth, if only because they read it in the papers.
This I discovered early on was the power and danger of mass media. Writ large, they can set the tone for national discussions in what academics call its “agenda setting role.” Like water gushing out of a dam, mass media has the ability to flood the landscape and sweep every other opinion clear off the table. Until only their viewpoints remain.
Taken to the extreme, media can twist and manipulate people’s perceptions of the very world they live in. Creating an alternate reality that exists only on the pages of their newspaper, or within the confines of their programing.
As a salve to all this power, media people swear by the bible of objectivity and impartiality, to present facts and information purely for the good of the community. Unfortunately, it very seldom works that way – if it does at all.
For one thing, everyone has a ‘price.’ With some it is simple cash, for others it could be a scoop, or maybe friendship, or family relations, or a particular interest in an advocacy, or a belief system, or maybe hiring their wives who just happen to have their own PR companies.
Whatever it is, if it can be grasped, it can be used as a leverage to turn the truth. And all this talk of fairness and balanced news fly out the window.
I make these observations in the context of what appears to be a coordinated effort to discredit President Rodrigo Duterte in the international community. From an outsiders perspective, it has the hallmarks of an organized public relations campaign complete with messaging points, targeted media, special events, talking heads, and well-funded war chest.
As to who is behind it, I will put my money on the Liberal Party. Aside from being the group with the most to gain from all this, they are also the ones who consistently hit the same messaging points. Whether it is the farcical dialogue between De Lima and Gascon, Bambam Aquino’s sudden interest in the plight of poor Filipinos, or Leni Robredo’s martyr act – it’s as if they are all reading from the same playbook. Or being guided by the same handler.
Then there’s also the editorials and special reports from foriegn media outlets, who all of a sudden, has become obsessed with the Philippines. What they have been coming out with are just too packaged, too coherent, to singular in its messaging for it to be anything else than a snow job.
With all that’s going on in the Philippines right now, for the international media to focus on the anti-drug campaign to the exclusion of everything else just seems to convenient for my taste. Especially when you consider all the other big ticket issues like the peace process and environmental protection that would, in normal times, have its share of the limelight. But now, they are not even footnotes in the anti-Duterte stories.
This clear effort to manipulate people through a paid PR campaign and the manipulation of mass media is nothing new. It has been done before. I hace even tried my hand at it a few times (or more). But the thing is, now people are fighting back.
In millions of comments sections and individual social media accounts, everywhere they can – people are resisting the monopoly of mass media. With voices are full of anger, frustration, and hate they are lashing out blindly at anything and anyone they see as a threat to their new found freedom of expression. After years of being suppressed by the media, people are slowly re-learning how it is to express their own opinions, and reclaim their role in the dialogue that affects the whole nation.