Sat. May 28th, 2022
Cartoon by Glenskie Tolo of the Daily Tribune.

POLITICIANS have always been at the end of accountability and transparency issues. Rightly so because they are paid by taxpayers once they secure a mandate.

But what of mainstream media? There is no board exam to be a journalist. Anyone can be a stringer, and since the race to call in breaking news is real, the most connected to a politician, a businessman, etc. can be a stringer.

Accountability and transparency are two attack points used by mainstream media against anyone whom they fancy to be their targets in support of their own narratives; often defined by the owners. The owner of a media organization can make or break a political candidate, an incumbent, a president or a business competitor.

That is the power of the Fourth Estate, which “refers to the press and news media, both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues.”

Media organizations are subject to the regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as to their corporate nature and the Bureau of Internal Revenue in regard to payment of corporate taxes.

Thomas Carlyle called the press the “Fourth Estate of the realm.” By this, he meant that “it acted as a sort of watchdog of the constitution and, as such, formed a vital part of democratic government.

Most modern writers would agree that the mass media should play a central role in sustaining and developing democracy: the media should present a full, fair and accurate account of the news, they should inform and educate the general public, and they should cover a wide range of political opinions and positions.” Today, it is more complicated than during the time of Carlyle.

Previously, the media was limited to reporting and commenting on news. They had influence but not power. Today, they become major political actors in their own right.

They have the power but not the responsibility. They are no longer journalists but personalities. They are inclined to use their new political power for their own particular purposes.

The media is no longer the Fourth Estate but the fifth column because of the concentration of ownership and control, systematic political bias and political influence.

Due diligence is expected for private dealings. Transparency is the call of the times when dealing with the public sector, and with it comes accountability.

The memorandum of agreement between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Rappler is an agreement that is disadvantageous to the country if Comelec does not see it as one.

No due diligence was made by Comelec on the least trusted media organization in the country. There are several pending cases against Rappler: SEC closure order, cyberlibel, tax cases before the Court of Tax Appeals and at the Pasig RTC.

There is something wrong with an election administration body that would rely on “online and social media organizations and platforms in providing truthful information to the public and promoting transparency and accountability in the electoral process.”

Rappler claimed that they have been doing this kind of assistance since 2013, or three election cycles. Has Comelec made an audit of that partnership?

Among the responsibilities of Rappler under that MoA are: awareness-building efforts, monitoring and verification efforts of critical concerns on the ground, Comelec online show, Radyo Comelec podcast, workshops and seminars, fact checking, PH voter microsite, precinct finder service.

On the last two services, the website of Rappler will “make use of data from the Comelec’s Precinct Finder and Post Finder.” In effect, Rappler’s website will be the mirror site of Comelec.

What’s worse is Comelec granted Rappler the non-exclusive right to embed Comelec’s precinct finder application to its website. If this is non-exclusive, who are the others to be granted such privilege?

Further, and subject to “applicable government fees, provide Rappler, key election information within the Comelec electoral system from registered voters, candidates, CoCs, substitutions and withdrawals, statement of votes and certificate of canvass per province/city/municipality in 2022 and past elections, statement of contributions and expenses, advertising contracts and voter turnout, by location.

Worst of all, Comelec will “share the data of untransmitted voters to municipal/city/province/national canvassing centers due to lowering of threshold and such other technical issues in the AES.”

Why would Comelec agree to such roles? Why only Rappler? Who pays Rappler to do all these things? Are these services free of charge and hence no bidding is needed? Is there no conflict and bias on Rappler’s operations?

As of Feb. 14, 2022, the US National Endowment for Democracy granted Rappler $240,000 for “understanding and addressing disinformation’s impact on democracy.”

Piercing the veil of “private-owned corporation” is a standard practice to remove conflicts of interest, bias and corruption. If Rappler can dish out dirt against candidates, politicians, incumbents and government institutions, then they should be beyond reproach, but Rappler is not and that is the problem with the MoA.

Comelec is designating Rappler to be its implementing arm for the May 2022 elections.

The fact checker which censors and controls the narrative online is now the brand-new partner of Comelec.

What’s in it for Rappler? Your guess is as good as mine but these days the guess is fake, partly false.

That’s how Rappler plays god and censors our right to speech, especially if it does not agree with the narrative they want to build and sustain until May 2022.

A constitutional body questioned before the Supreme Court.

Update: Comelec suspends deal with Rappler

By William Depasupil, Manila Times March 9, 2022

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has held in abeyance an agreement it inked with online organization Rappler as partner in voter engagement and fighting disinformation in relation to the May 2022 elections.

“Given the allegations against Rappler and the subsequent filing of the petition with the Supreme Court, it is judicious for the commission to hold in abeyance the implementation of the provisions of the MoA (memorandum of agreement) until the issues are settled and/or a decision of the court is rendered,” Comelec acting chairman Socorro Inting said in a memorandum, dated March 8, 2022, Tuesday, and addressed to Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.

“All actions in connection with the MoA shall be deferred, including coordination between the Commission and Rappler on matters of the MoA,” Inting stated.

She disclosed the deferment of the controversial Comelec-Rappler agreement in response to a letter complaint sent to the poll body by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who said the MoA violates the Constitution, the Anti-Dummy Law and Presidential Decree 10181, which limits the ownership and management of mass media to Filipino citizens.

Calida also said the MoA’s provisions encroached on the Comelec’s power to decide on all questions affecting elections as the extent of the poll body’s’ assistance to Rappler was neither delineated nor specified.

Inting’s memorandum cited Calida’s allegations that Rappler has a record of reporting false and grossly biased information.

“In response thereto and in recognition of the partnership with the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) as the government lawyer with shared interest of ensuring the conduct of clean, credible, honest and transparent elections, the commission requests the OSG the submission of credible evidence for the evaluation of the commission,” the Inting memorandum read.

The acting Comelec chairman also cited a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayers for a temporary restraining order filed by the OSG before the high tribunal against the Comelec and Rappler to stop the implementation of the MoA and to declare the same as void.

She said given the allegations against Rappler, it would be prudent to hold the MoA’s implementation pending resolution from the court. (Truncated by SPH Editor)

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