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Vlogging most foul: When pictures paint a thousand lies

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jun 07, 2022 4:04 pm

Is vlogging synonymous with facticide, or the premeditated murder of facts? 

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s Vergel O. Santos has painted a rather grim picture of what to expect from vloggers after Atty. Trixie Cruz went from being Palace Press Secretary to Malacañang Vlogger Stage Mom. 

“The idea is dangerous,” Santos said. “It tends to legitimize the false impression that bloggers are journalists, and as such, part of the institution that the democratic constitution assigns as people’s watchdog on government — the press.”   

According to Santos, the difference between journalists and vloggers lies in the training, discipline, ethical standards, and the system of checks that govern the profession, something bloggers and vloggers are not, even at their best, familiar with. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Manny Mogato observed how vloggers acquired more access to the incoming president than journalists in the recent presidential campaign. Is the accreditation of vloggers just another spinoff of this rather ludicrous practice that began during Rodrigo Duterte’s regime? No harm in asking. 

Incoming press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles answers questions from the media during a press briefing at their campaign headquarters in Mandaluyong on May 26.

“Vloggers and social media influencers were given unrestricted access during the campaign sorties and rallies while legitimate journalists were cordoned off away from candidate Marcos. Bongbong Marcos may adopt President Rodrigo Duterte’s template in dealing with the media, a valuable lesson in controlling the narrative,” said Mogato. 

Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch, a former journalist, made it plain that while we’re on the right track in wanting to stop vloggers from spreading disinformation, it is also crucial for journalists to refuse to be blindsided at this stage in the struggle. 

“Disinformation does not exist in a vacuum; it thrives not only when tyrants rise but most crucially when democratic vanguards such as journalists fail in their mission," said Conde. "Yes, oppose the use of vloggers and such for disinformation. But damn — journalists really ought to do better.” 

Vloggers apparently are getting the lion’s share of public attention. Did you know that the most popular vlogger today – the Swedish Felix Kjellberg popularly know as PewDiePie – enjoys 111 million subscribers? That’s right about in the area of the country’s total population. He vlogs about gameplay videos.  

It’s the so-called 'journalist' pretending to be journalists that we should watch out for.  

Not all vlogs, though, are as harmless as Minecraft or Tetris. Philippine STAR columnist Bill Velasco raised some issues against vloggers on the matter of “stolen” content, where influencers rehash shows and bootleg sporting events which they have no right in airing on YouTube in the first place.  

This only goes to show how shallow, if not criminal, vloggers can be in their idea of what is right and wrong, proper or improper. “Unprofessional” doesn’t even come remotely close to describing how vloggers operate.  

This, however, begs the question: is the absence of ethical and editorial standards enough for the public to be wary of vloggers covering Malacañang? I mean, they’re vloggers, what do we expect? One can spot them a mile away. It’s the so-called “journalist” pretending to be journalists that we should watch out for.  

While I agree that the Presidential Communications Operations Office should hold accredited vloggers to some standard, and thus some level of responsibility, aren’t journalists overreacting? Is this because we feel slighted, or not the least insulted, by PCOO’s choice of vloggers over well-trained newshounds? 

Shouldn’t we be more suspicious of so-called “journalists” and “columnists” – at times even a whole newspaper company – who bear the title but never the moral code that sets journalism apart from mediocre media? Those who hurl their principles and conscience out the window at the slightest hint and smell of legal tender? Whose misplaced political loyalties get in the way of exposing the truth? Those who couldn’t tell fact from fiction? 

A day after his proclamation, president-Elect Marcos Jr. held an interview with a select number of media on May 26.

Conde, in another Facebook post, clarifies his stance on the matter: “You can’t defend press freedom but argue that only you are entitled to it. You can’t preach media ethics but argue that only you are good enough to uphold it. You can’t demand competence but argue that only you are capable of it.” That’s democracy for you in Three Acts. 

Integrity is important in the work of gathering and vetting the facts, but these aren’t upheld with the same flawlessness as the ideal – not always. The profession itself suffers untold challenges from within. Imagine the owner of a news media company who prides himself as friend and relative to people in high places. How does that square with a vocation that calls itself The Fourth Estate? Every investigative report would be like treading on egg shells, under pain of losing your job. 

If I were a vlogger, I’d feel extremely insulted. They, too, have the right to see and to know. State control is the blight of the creative mind, and censorship takes no prisoners. 

Some community papers and provincial media work under extremely stressful conditions: late salaries, if at all they do come; threats of libel from the powers that be; hazardous working conditions. Campus newsrooms suffer from budget constraints and some shape or form of censorship. Underpaid, undermanned, and largely unappreciated, some of these journos are forced to look the other way for fear of their safety. 

Let’s not even talk about self-proclaimed newshounds in Metro Manila and elsewhere who are simply greedy and covetous, who’d sell their grandmothers and cats for scraps. The fact that journalists have been trained to handle information under very stringent rules makes them even more culpable when they intentionally blur the lines and confuse the public.  

Malacañang’s assumption, too, that vloggers will easily toe the official line despite the facts staring them in the face demeans vlogging as an act of sheer mindless publicity, not vetted news. If I were a vlogger, I’d feel extremely insulted. They, too, have the right to see and to know. State control is the blight of the creative mind, and censorship takes no prisoners. 

Trust is crucial to the work of chronicling government’s decisions and actions. The message should have no room for doubt. It must stand the toughest questions, more so when pictures are meant to paint a thousand lies. Only facts can stand the test. Any deliberate attempt to muddle the facts affects everyone, the liars themselves being the first of its many victims.  

It is no secret how vloggers and influencers control public perception. Journalists should look at the situation as one of several reasons to better themselves and the work at hand, to go the extra mile when navigating social media and learning what makes vloggers tick. The plan is to improve ourselves, not ban “them”.  

“I do not share the attitude of those writers who claim for themselves divine privileges not granted to ordinary mortals,” Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote.  

Primitivo Mijares, the author of The Conjugal Dictatorship, was once Ferdinand Marcos’ most loyal press censor and chief propagandist. Who knows? Let’s humor them a bit. Perhaps covering the President may just be what vloggers need to see the facts for themselves.  

When faced with the truth, nothing is impossible.