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GOVEBNMENT AGENCIES
AND THE

MTNIA
BTILDING A RELATIONSHIP

GOVEM AGENCIES
AND THE

MTDIA
BunorNGa RprATroNSHrp

A Publication by the Center Media for Freedom Responsibility & October 1998

Written by: RINA JIMENEZ DAVID BoardofEditors: MELTNDA Qr.rrNTOSDE JESUS LIIS V TEODOROJR

Unit 2 No. 9 Twin Peaks Drive Blue Ridge B, Qqezon City TeL &7W45 & 4385728 FeD<: 647@45 Fmail cmfr@surfshop.netph pjr@surfshop.netph

GOVERNMENITAGENCIES
AIIDTHEMEDIA:
BTIILDING A RELATIONSHIP
THERE is a story probably apocryphal, about a newsPaperreporter who, asthe still daily deadlineneared,, had not found anything worth writing about. Then he 'Dog bites man, thaCsnot recalledthe journalistic adageabout what makesnews: news; but when man bites dog, thaCsnews." The desperatereporter then went out and bit his dog-and wrote about it. And true enough, his editor used the story. Newspaperreadersshould keepthis story in mind the nercttime they scanthe front page and wonder at the seemingly erratic and inexplicable standardsemployed in choosing the day's "top" stories. The "man bites dog stoqf'highlights nvo factors that greatly influence the way journalists work. First, the tyrarury of the daily deadline, which accountsas well for the fleeting qualify not just of news but also of coverage. Then there's the preference for the odd and bizarre, the quirky and whimsical and the almost instinctive fear of complexity and seriousness. you fu membersand offrcersof government agencies) haveprobably tried to "selP' to your pressreleases the mediq only to get frustrated at every turn. Why, you wonder, would a reporter resort to biting his dog when there are many out there just dying to get written about| From your perspective,goveffrment efficrts to upgrade and extend basic serviceshardly receive the media attention that might help the public understand the problems you face. And what about the successes that do improve the quality of life for sornecommunitiesl Why cant the media be interested in these|

Whilethe media exist Iargelyfor the pursuit of purueyingnews, practitionersrarely agreeon what makes the newsof the day.
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But wringing your handsat this stateof affairscanonly stall the appropriate action. In fact, carping about the misplaced priorities of the media, or appealing to journalists'socialconscience, only get your pressrelationsofficer chased of can out the newsroom. The fact is the presspays attention to government. Governmenr generares much of the ne-ws that happens. But there areseriouslimits to media focus and attention. The media seldom interview anyoneelsethan the acknowledgednewsmakerof the departrnent and such attention usually reports only when things go wrong-the fiascoesand scandals that stand out and mar govefirment service. Why is this sol In the real world", govefirment information officers will have to understand the way the media work in order to get their message and their news acrossto policymakersand to the generalpublic.

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The best w-ayto get the media to use your bpories)or to report on your acttvrtles and issues,is to make them want to. To do this, you must understand how the media andmediapeoplewor\ what intereststhem, andhow they maketheir choices about what things to cover)report on and publish.

NNW6 I]NDEPdTANDINC
News is the basic material of journalism, from which reports, analysesand cofirmentariesare fashioned; and on which newspapersare built and survive, from one profitable day to the next. \tt oddly enough, while the media exist largely for the pursuit and purveying of news) practitioners rarely agreeon the news, or on the relative value of the news, on any given day or moment. Obviously, two people scanninga "menul'of newsstories generatedin one day will come up with rwo separateline-ups of the day'smost importanq most significant, most interesting stories. In making their judgments, journalists use a set of gUidelines, the so-called "elements" of news: timeliness, proximity, significance,

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prominence andhuman interest. Wtrile theseserveasbenchmarksfor determining the news value of a story other factors come into play in the ranking of news stories, which factors will be discussed later in this paper.

For now, herds a listing ofqualities of an "average"newsstory asgleaned from studies:

Xmmediacy

News is about what hasjust happened,and so, it stresses present rather than the the past, changerather than inertiq and eventsrather than long term processes.

Proximify

News is about what happensto the reader,or to people with whom the readercan identi$'. This is why a traffrc j* itt Manila receives much more prominent play in Manila-basednewspapersthan, say)a typhoon in Cebu, evenif the damagecaused by the typhoon is far greater. And why Filipinos feelmore empathyand compassion for hundredswho died in the typhoon than for the thousandskilled in, say,Rwanda or Kosovo.

Prominence
News is about the known, the famous, the'hewsmakers." Car wreckstake place hourly on Manila's mean streets,but a car wreck becomesfront-page material if it involves a government offrciaL a top businessfigure, or a movie star. A car wreck is a national crisis if the victim is the President.

Dramafizalion

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News emphasizesthe dramatic and sensational,stressing concrete events rather than underlyiog patterns of motivation or belief. \ /hich is why when a street protest turns violent, the media are more interestedin the violence itself, and not for on the protesters'reasons taking to the streets.

FePsonalizalion
are people, which orplains why clashes often depicted asa batde News emphasizes the of wills betweenthe individualswho represent opposing sides: pros and antis, This is alsowhy social and progressives fi.rndamentalists. liberalsand conservatives, problems are often examinedon the basisof their impact on individuals. This is known asputting "face" on an issue.

Tifillalion and novslly


News is what is interesting, exciting, lively and provocative. And this includes gossip, scandaland innuendo.

eonvenfionalism
News, though supposedlyabout what is new, about "changer" is also often about journalists the familiar andexpect.4 thestatusquo. Thereis agreattendencyamong to interpret events in terms of familiar stereotypesand scenarios. Paradoxically, news is predictable, for as a communications scholar explains: "The events that havemadenews in the past, asin the present,areacflrally the elpected things...it is on the whole the accidentsand incidents that the public is preparedfor...the things *rat one fears and that one hopes for that make the news."

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Reporters thrive on conflict. Polarizing the many sidesof an issueis a reportorial instinct. It comesfrom the story-telling tradition of newspapers. Conflict lies in ttreheartof the beststories,in journalism asin fiction. It is in the natureof things, interest and sympathy. of human curiosity,compassion, It is alsoimportant to note thatnews is ahighlyperishablecommodiry,living only when the events themselvesare current and for purposes of record. It is also unsystematic,a record of discrete events and seeminglyunrelated happenings. |ournalists do not feel it their businessto "explain" their reportage) nor to relate their modey collection of stories to one another. The characterof a daily accounting the of the eventsof the day dismisses history that precededthe event or the context or of current exchange transaction. On a "heavy'' news day,when many eventsof significanceand interest competefor a coverage) story of genuine national significancemay land on the inside Pags. On a "slow" newsday,it could verywell merit front-page treatrnenqif not a headline. for So it makessense a public relationsoffrcer to target a story for publication on) say,a Monday, since not much is expectedto happen on a weekendand there is a will seeprint. greaterpossibility the release Editors also seekto balancetheir front-page contents with a variery of stories, mixing the significant with the humorous, with items of local interest and on reflected intemational affairs. Thus, a newsreporfs true valuemay not be accurately by its placementin the paper. of Because the growing complexity of issuesrelated to events and developments) of an ongoing re-evaluation thesecriteria may leadto sometransformationor "reinvention" ofjournalism. Anumber of leadingjournalistsfrom the Westaswell as have begun to question the adequacyof the instruments of from developing areas the craft to keep up with the challengeof the times.

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But the kind of daily journalism governed b|'*the traditional standardsof news will alwaysremain because they fulfill a necessiry.It answersthe inevitable question"What happenedtodayl'

ObJECTIVITY: THEZEQO<1UM CAME


It is a journalistic conceit that members of the profession work from the high ground of objectivity. For instance, amember of the political opposition attacks if a government departmenq the conscientiousreporter will uy to get the side of the headof that department. Operating on the principle of the "zero-sum"game,the statementof one cancelsout the other, one plus one equalszero. It is the job of the reporter to present the facts, quote both or all parties involvd and lay them down beforethe public, who supposedly know enoughto pick through ccrruth"themselves.News, therefore,doesnot the story's contents and arrive at the "tell" the truth, it only provides the information which establishesthe "truth." Unfornrnately, the presentationof suchfactswithout the interpretation or analysis may not help the reader to establish the truth. Without any framework for interpretation) accounts of events which only the journalist has observed often leavesthe readerwith little understanding of what acftrally happened. |ournalistic objectivify also tries to eraseperceptions of "conflict of interestr" for fear that any seemingbias could destroy their credibility asobjective purveyors of news. Unfortunately, such stand-offishness from the generalbusiness society of hasalsoledto adeepeningcynicism, believingin anythingor anybody, aresistanceto a suspicionof causes great ideas,and an instinctive distrust of institutions. and News media are said to play a "watchdog" frrnction over govefirment and other social institutions, an independent center of power and a checkagainst abuseand corruption. In democratic societies,the frrnction of the media is seenas keeping the government honest, which is why the "ideaf'relationship benveenmedia and

too governmentin this set-up is "adversarial." Once journalistsrbecome friendly with or supportive of people in power, they may cease servepublic interest, to serving instead ttre interests of their friends. Criticism, even carping, has thus becomethe standardresponseto govefi]ment. But asAmerican scholar Iarnes Carey observes,the overrveaningcynicism among journalists, which is reflected in the tradition of the muckraking pressrhas nrned even the public against the media. The public, he wrote in a recent study, "increasingly distrusted journalists and viewed them asa hindrance to) rather than the rising tide an avenue toward.,politics and reform...While the pressdismissed the of criticism. . . the problem went deeper.In the public's eyes) mediahad become the adversaryof all irutitutions, including the public itself."

THEI{YTTI ObJECTIVITY OT
But evenasmedia people aspirefor the ideal of objectivity, of working for no other consideration than that of ferreting out the truth and telling people about it, they are also awarethat objectiviry is actually a myth.

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Playingmedia's game: lnformation officesshould give media materials they themselves would not hesitate use. to

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The media after all is a human institution, md subjectto very human foibles like biasesand hidden motivations. The very work of coveringan event)or evenbeforethat, of choosingwhat eventto radio or TV newscasqcan cover)nlt""dy involves a judgfnent. No newspaper, cover everything that happensin a given day. Reporters)with the guidanceof their editors, must choosefrom among the many eventstaking place,the many people who want their views aired, their facesseen, the many problems crying out for attention, the few they will spend time on. If a newspaperwere indeed objective, and thorough, it would be nothing but a listing, a catalog of things taking place. Having chosen what to cover) the reporter must then make severaljudgments: who to interview, what questions to ask,what of the many details gatheredare to be included in the story. The very act of writing the story itself involves an exercise

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Government can agencies scanthe dailies of in search thatrelate stories to theiradvocacy or service.

in judgment: !\rhat is the most important fact| \Arhatstatementis worth quotingl the How to sequence chain of events| When the story goes to the newsdesk,there is further dilution of the "objectivity" of the original story. The viewsof one or more editorscomeinto play: rearranging the story, determining the final headlines,deciding where to place the story. All and public down the line, judgments, often ad hoc and intuitive, are exercised, for opinion is shaped, good or ill. Media's commercial nature also influences its performance. SaysLuis Teodoro, journalist and dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass C,ommunication: "What will sell is...at the very heart of media operations, md ttris hasvery definite implications on what getsairedor printed-on what constitutes news."
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Private ownership of media in the Philippines, T.odoro adds,*often conflicts with the public service,public interestrole of the massmedia...Most Philippine media owners are businesspeople, or politicians, or both, first. They went into media to protect and enhancetheir economic and politicd interests, which erplains why, despite most of our broadsheets'losing money)they keep being published. "This meansthateverynewspaper) radio station or TVchannelhas its list-written or unwritten<f sacredcows, whipping boys, or both. The implications of this fact to the flow of news are obvious. Some newspaperswill not even permit mention of the namesof their publisher's pet peevepersonalities. Others mention sacredcows solely to defend them or make it a policy to attack their rivals or competitors. Still othersworft evenpublish suchcriticisms. From their standpoint, criticism of their sacredcows, or praiseof their pet hatesdoesnot constitute news. The conclusion is inescapable in those instanceswhen the specialinterestsof the : owners are involved, the public is either given distorted reports) or none at all."

YOUP APPEAI ENHANCING


First a review of the points raisedso far:
er, Newsis highlyperishable fleeting,currentandtimely. and
?.' |ournalists keepa lookout for the odd and unusual. ar, News must be fresh, about current eventstaking placeat or near where the audiencelives, involves people of prorninence, relies on simplification, dramatization and personalization to make the facts accessible interestingto massaudience, and md yet must alsoconform to the publids expectations) their idea of what news is, and of what to their own societyis like.

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of d., While journalistsinsist th.y work under a regirure "objecti"ity," of color the presentation news in practic., .hoi..r, iudgmentsandbiases every step of the waY. ZJ, The commercialnature of media determinesto a largeextent not just the contents but also the treatment of news and ultimately, the shapingof public oPinion.
especially those Ifteping these points in mind, how can govepment agencies, work, harnessthe undisputed power of the media involved in social d"evelopment to influence the poliry environmentl game)that is to give them One obvious lessonwould be to learn to play med.ia's help sell their material they would not hesitate to use becausethey think it will think asa reporter paper or jack up the rating of their show. This meanslearning to will and an editor would rhink",to askquestions like: Is this new/current/timelyl will it sell| As this grab readersby the throatl Is this the talk on the streets? sensationalizing Teodoro says:"...Anyone writing to pitch a story can't be above interest, but now and then, though not in terms of, say,appealing to prurient something unusual of along the lines of finding that one asPect the story-perhaps the event or new-that will suffrciently interest an editor for him to consider 'newsworthl/."

SCANNING THE NEWS especially) It's a corrrmon practice among reporters, ed.itorsand even (or perhaps along the radio columnists and commentators, tb scanthe papersdaily (or cruise is "hotr" whads talk lanes)to get a feel of what people aretalking about, what news heating up, and what's about to falt by the wayside'

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Government information officers can do tltq same: Scan the dailies in searchof stories that relate to your line of advocacy service,and usethe'hews peg" to, as or it were, sneakinto the news agenda. So there is a "cholera" scarein the countrysidel A government agencyinvolved in Primary health careand health issuescould issuea statement or stagea protest to call attention to the deeper significance of the cholera epidemic: the budgetary limits that prevent the improvement of basic services,especiallyof potable water and sanitation in the countryside; *re skewedpriorities not just of the politicians

"Human interest" canbe used to communicate development concern.


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but alsoof the medicalestablishment;the concentration of health services urban in areas)etc. At the same time, th.y could use the occasion to inform the public about their own line of work and the issuesthev carrv.
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This sameinformation officer doesrt't even need to do the work itself. They can call up the news editor and entice him or her with a proposition: a story on the

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"human face" of cholera, with the information officer assistirlgin finding a family arranging for an interview/ pictorial, and providing struck down by the disease, "background' material. As a concreteexample,the role played by the Deparnnent of Health (DOH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) officials in highlighting problems of rape victims and AIDS hasresultedin a higher profile of the work of theseagencies.

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the Which brings us to yet another shortcoming of most "developmenC'stories: lack of a human face. Praiseworthy,lofty visions and far-reachingaction plans are difficult to convey to a massaudience. Rhetoric doesn't sell. Better to reducethe embodiesthe issueto the individual-to one personwhoselife and circumstances document. "Iluman interesC'canbe used and sentimentsof the consensus issues to communicate development concern. But even when ir applies all the tips and strategies in this folio, a government information officer cannot hope to sharpenand increasethe public profile of the Government the if agency it consistentlymisses boat. Timelinessis of the essence. officers are notorious for their fear of the press, their discomfort at releasing information. Yet this makesit diffrcult for you to respond qurckly, to strike while the iron is hot, to use a clichd, and maximize the opening createdby a news event. Somemechanismmust be devisedto enableyour group to respondimmediately *ride" on the issuewhile public interest is high. an4 as it were,

FINDING

YOUR ALLIES

Elsewherein this folio, you will find tips on developing better pressrelations. But even putring these tips into practicq yOu will confront the reality that not all
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newspapers shareyour vision for sociefy, that someeditors will actuallybe hostile to you and what you stand for. Though the media industry likes to think of itself asan "equaliznr," a champion of the underdog, the truth is that in the Philippines, the media are owned by, and are usedto protect the interestsof the political and economicelite. Rareis the publisher/ owner who will allow his or her mediaoutlet (which is probably subsidized)to be used to undermineprivate and classor sectorinterests. But in every newspaperor media establishmenqeven the most conservativeand supportive of the stanrsquo) government officers can find potential allies; if only they would take time to seekthem out and cultivate them. Most journalists, after all, are crusadersat heart. Many begin their careerswith a view to setting the world on fire with their zeal and courage. Though the fres are soon dampened, such early idealism can still be tapped and provoked into a flare or fever without a journalistlsalizing it. Writes Teodoro: "(T)here arepractitionerswho, while sharingthe conviction that they arein a professionof exceptionalimportancein society,think that the problems ofPhilippine newsmediaarerealenough. They see manyhindrancesto the discharge
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of the primal responsibility of getting and disseminatinginfornration. They believe practitioners and.organizations havebeen unfair tob matry times , ild that med"ia irresponsible aswell asuncaring. They seemedia people misusing the vast Power of mediq, using it for personal and other narrows ends-for enriching themselves superior to others. perhaps,or for revengq or just to Prove themselves "(T)hey're also the people who try to get meaningfrrl stories and who try to get their facts right. They have a senseof mission as well as outrage. They're the people who are, right now and in varying degrees,tqnng to make a difference in news media. "This is to say that in many newspapersand magazinesand even in some radio it stationsandTV ctrannels, is possibleto find someonein a position of responsibility friendly to most legitimate causes." 'Tew good men (or persons)|" You may know of a How do you identiff these reporter or editor who was a classmatein college, or better yet, is a friend or relative. There'sno harm in cultivating the personal connection, keeping in touch and plying him or her with materials-statements) newsletters,updates-on your group's current activities. Supplementthis with personalencounters:aphone callfrom time to timg a personal invitation to attend one s)rmposiumor another. In a crunch, yotr can then be sure that you arenot calling and asking for help from out of the misty past, and lending or of 'lringi'your acquaintance blood-relation. yourselfvulnerableto accusations 'prep' your news. If you aren't so lucky, then you must work even harder to Remember,establishingpressrelations involves an entire departrnent and budget aPparatus, with scaled-down for variousgroups.Information officerscando the same for so long as they are familiar with the requirements of news. Read the by-lines in a newspaper: Who is covering the "beaC'to which most of or your issuesand projects relate| Whose writing revealsan affinity for causes, a

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personal interest in your own field of interest| Who are the sub-editors, the sobut who largely called gatekeepers the news who remain namelessand faceless of deterrnine a paper's contents and their presentation, in a particular newspaper| Having "spotted'your potential allg you can then initiate the contact.an{ more important, nurture the relationship. Friends, syrnpathizersand allies in the media should not be seenas"one-shoC'contacts,to be tapped only when their "services" are needed. Far more profitable for the information officer to recruit, asit were, the media person to the cause)to build a long-term relationship in which the journalist is given the chanceto grow into the issue, to imbibe it as a personal belief, to champion it without need of prodding. Such an ally in the media then becomesa partner in the continuing struggle to make the media more responsiveto society and more reflective to societfs real dynamics aswell as its potential for change.

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(9th A AS"EWarrenK., Ault, Philip H., Emery Edwin. h,wofunimtuMf,ss Cornrnanbatians Edhian),Harper andRow, 1988 in Rela.ti,urs Mistahes Public A Benn, Nec. The23Most Comm'on rAmacom,1982 Islands, of Bonh, thePbilippine WorhshE," Cmrnunica.ti,on lwage: Cmpmate A "Buildinga Positipe September 29,L993
Cxey, |ames Wi "Thc Mass Media and Democracy," |ournal of Intcrnational Affairs (as Publishedin BusinessWorldluly 25-29,L994) A Longman Inc., ofMns Com,municati'on, 6 De Fleur, Melvin L., Ball-Rokeach, Sandra. Tlteori,es L982 PrcssFoundation A Gil, Generoso In Gd.) The .4sianRqortn: AMarnnlm,Reponi.ngTbchnQues, for Asia, 1983 A Mc.Combs, Maxwell 8., Becker, Lu B. Utitg Mets Cowrnunicni.wtsfutry, L979 Anlntrodomi'on, SagePublications,1987 CwnntuniiutiantTheory: lb McQuail, Denis. .Mass Anlnnod,wctialr, PACE, L988 A Maslog, Crispin C. Plilippine Cnwnuni,catians: fu'?ublir Rclaiians101: Tipsand'Id*ds," CampaignsAdvocacy& PR., Inc., 1993 A Teodoro, Luis !f.lr. nnd. toMed:iaAccessforNGOs athw If aMan BhesaDog (A Sbu,tGui.d,e Prcntice Hall,

Outsiders).Philippine JournalismReview,]une 1994 Random House, 1986 Perspecttve, lh Wright, Charles R. Mass Cwnwnicati.oru: A Sociolngi.cal

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