By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
There are always public relations (p.r.) people who manage the news in this media-savvy world.
Whatever the title (spokesperson, information officer, or communication specialist in a company or political party or to a celebrity), their basic job is to protect and enhance the client’s public image.
At the Corona impeachment trial, prosecution and defense each has spokespersons who know the law and, with youth and good looks, aim to charm their audience.
The same lawyer who argues in court used to speak to the media for his client. But most lawyers don’t have p.r. skills and only few are endowed with the celebrity’s pleasing attributes.
The lawyer, adept in courtroom techniques, may bumble before a gaggle of journalists armed with microphones and cameras. And p.r. tasks may get in the way of lawyering, tough as it already is: to convict or acquit a Supreme Court chief justice.
So, contenders in the Corona trial employ a different tack. They field spokespersons who argue at a different trial, “trial by publicity” with the public as jurors “in the bar of public opinion.”
Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada and Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara Jr., for the prosecution, and lawyers Karen Jimeno and Tranquil Salvador III, for the defense, have common traits of speaking well and looking good and, here’s a notable difference, they aren’t combative or they are, but incredibly mild-mannered.
It may be the kind of education and breeding each spokesperson had, or the lack of animosity among brother lawyers (“compañeros”). Maybe, they’ve seen how the impeachment has divided the nation and it wouldn’t be seemly to add to the fire President Aquino and Corona have kept stoking.
Or perhaps, the spokespersons know competition for public sentiment may still be waged even if the debaters are civil to, and mutually respect, one another. Besides, the nation watches their work on TV: a strong deterrent, don’t you think?
‘Oasis of decorum’
The two panels, one observer noted, provide “an oasis of decorum and dignity,” which usually doesn’t exist in a dispute. (Not like local lawyers in the Bella Ruby Santos kidnapping-homicide case who thump their chests at each turn of the trial.)
A media that thrive on conflict, which theoretically sells more newspapers and shoots up broadcast ratings, may not be too happy about trial warriors being polite to one another.
But spokespersons are not the main newsmakers; it’s the lawyers and senator-judges who tangle in court. The p.r. persons explain and provide context and background to trial issues and thus help improve journalists’ report or commentary.
The spokespersons are spinmeisters. They try “to forestall negative publicity” by focusing on the interpretation of words or actions that tend to favor their client.
In a way, each panel tries to cast a spell on media to make them view a trial ruling or testimony in the eyes of prosecution or defense, to minimize damage and hype up gain.
Journalists are routinely wary of any self-serving spin from a news source. With the allure of a “hot” spinner like Jimeno or the persuasiveness of a spiel from “hunk” Angara, reporters may have to be more careful.
Though the trial spokespersons have blazed a trail, we doubt if their counterparts in the next elections can bring the “decorum and dignity” the likes of the present spokespersons have displayed in the impeachment debate.
The election is a different fight: one where no court looks over shoulders of protagonists and their propagandists, and one where combatants, including media handlers, come out with swords unsheathed, ready for the kill.