Government Media News Analysis

Media manoeuvres

Philippine Government
Philippine Government

Two well-known names – Mocha Uson and Dante Ang – have now joined the Philippine Government ranks to handle media matters that have been a source of frustration for large swathes of Filipinos ever since they elected Rodrigo Duterte to be their president in May last year. These are two very good appointments and should help to restore some balance to the blatantly one-sided negative media coverage of the administration and its achievements.

Singer turned super-blogger, Mocha Uson (photo, with microphone, at a Duterte campaign rally in Hong Kong), is an extremely good communicator, particularly in the Internet arena where her online Facebook page gathered some 4.6 million followers. Appropriately, her task as assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office will be to handle social media where she has a ready network of channels that can help to get the government’s message out. In taking up the post she relinquishes her position as a board member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

Dante Ang, chairman emeritus of The Manila Times and the former publicist of ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is a media heavyweight and well able to counter the anti-Duterte PR machine that’s dominated overseas ‘reporting’ on the government’s first year in office. His appointment as Special Envoy of the President for International Public Relations will help to redress the media imbalance that has become the hallmark of Philippine news coverage over the past 12 months.

Uson and Ang are both Duterte loyalists. Last year, The Manila Times made Duterte its ‘Man of the Year’ for overcoming the odds and changing the political landscape. Ang presented him with the award. Uson got involved with Duterte’s presidential campaign early on having been drawn to his law-and-order platform. Her father, Judge Oscar Uson, had been assassinated in 2002 on his way home from work. His assailants were never caught.

Both understand the scale of the task that lies ahead. They are up against a sophisticated and well-resourced media and public-relations force that are at the forefront of moves to defame and damage the image of the president and members of his administration. Each in their own area will be expected to come up with new initiatives to promote Philippine interests by explaining government policies and highlighting the administration’s achievements.

The goal of the anti-Duterte nexus, in a phrase, is ‘regime change’ – its ultimate purpose is to bring down the Duterte government; undermining it by means of misinformation, self-censorship and virulent attacks. That’s been its strategy from day one; there’s nothing to suggest that will change. Uson and Ang have no illusions about this.

But providing an alternative viewpoint to the one being driven by the Western media and NGOs – such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which supply much of the anti-Duterte ammunition – is just part of the task that lies ahead for these two new appointments. Their main effort will be to present a positive image of the Philippines. They’re going to have to hit back hard against the critics of course, but they’re also going to have to soft-sell the place.

While Uson will work with a number of pro-Duterte support groups online and seek to broaden positive coverage of the government’s efforts in that sphere, Ang will work closely with a number of government departments – not least Foreign Affairs – where he’ll act in an advisory capacity in getting the government’s message out to a wide international audience. This has been a failure in the past with Duterte’s critics abroad having virtually free rein to discredit him.

Ang is a highly respected communicator having performed a publicist brief for former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for 10 years, from 1993 to 2003, going back to the days when she was a senator. During Arroyo’s presidency he served in the Cabinet as chairman of the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (2005-2010). He was also a public-relations consultant for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and for Kuwait during the Iraq-Kuwait War (1980).

It’s likely that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) which overwhelmingly support Duterte and his administration will be brought into play by Ang in some form – ambassadors of the message perhaps. And they won’t need much encouragement. In Hong Kong, for example, home to around 170,000 OFWs, crowds of Filipinos can regularly be found waving pro-Duterte signs in the city on their day off from work.

Naturally, that’s never reported by the mainstream media who seek to isolate Duterte from his people. They like many of their compatriots in other countries have become increasingly agitated by the lack of a comprehensive response to Duterte’s opponents. Frankly, they’re appalled at the image their country is being given by ruthless, self-serving media organisations.

Uson also has a high credibility rating with the OFW communities – particularly those in the Middle East, which is probably why in April she joined the president’s official delegation on his state visits to Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

These communities could prove critical in stemming the tide of Western-sponsored enmity towards Duterte. For this demographic, as much as any, is angry with the mass-media’s coverage of the man they overwhelmingly chose to be their country’s leader. Their voice has been drowned out; more or less it’s been ignored.

These are men and women who’ve had to leave their country and their families in order to find work and remit money home to support their children and elderly parents. These are people for whom the May 2016 election was the most important in their life time. That’s why they showed up in vast numbers; why in vast numbers they voted for Duterte; why in vast numbers they continue to support him.

The scale of his victory with these communities is unprecedented – he got 72% of Overseas Absentee Votes; his nearest rival, the Liberal Party’s Mar Roxas, got 10.3%, the same as People’s Reform Party candidate, the late Miriam Defensor Santiago.

And that’s why the media never cover these communities. They know they’re going to get answers and reactions they don’t want; that don’t fit with their narrow narrative. On 25 February, for example, these communities turned out in large numbers in support of Duterte in London, Madrid, Toronto, Paris, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The occasion was the 31st anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution – the mass civil-disobedience coalition that led to the fall of President Ferdinand Marcos; their purpose “Pro-Duterte Solidarity”. Predictably, they were all largely ignored by the media. Had they been protesting against the Philippine president – calling for Mar Roxas to be installed in the presidential palace at Malacañang, for example – we all know it would have been a very different story. Such is the self-censorship that pervades the Western-led press. And that’s why more has to be done on the media and PR front to counter the bias.

That then is what Uson and Ang are up against. Hopefully, their appointments will give greater voice to the majority – have their views aired. They will also spread a fact-based account of what is really taking in place in the Philippines – especially in respect of Duterte’s law-and-order campaigns: his wars on drugs and criminality which the foreign media and others continue to use as a stick to beat him.

But they’ll also want to publicise what’s happening in the economy which gets precious little international coverage – particularly if the news is good – and on Duterte’s relations with other world leaders, particularly those in the immediate neighbourhood of East and Southeast Asia, where all are supportive of his policies.

There’s no doubt that Uson and Ang have their work cut out but both will likely relish the challenge – one we believe they’ll rise to.

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