Media's Public

Andanar ducks after fallout

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita

Separate incidents, with Senate reporters and Malacañang Press Corps, showed how a publicist can get maimed and recover

[Related: “How a publicist can screw up,” Media’s Public, Feb. 25, 2017]

Two incidents, a month or so apart, showed how a high-powered publicist, Presidential Communications Officer Martin Andanar, could take the wrong step in dealing with media:

◘ Last Jan. 15, Andanar, in a press statement, cited as “examples of irresponsible journalism” news reports about President Duterte’s statement about martial law in a Davao City press-con held the previous day. He decried the “misreporting” as the latest offense of the reporters covering Duterte.

The Malacañang Press Corps on Jan. 18 collectively “took exception” to Andanar’s accusation and gave him and his officials a “tutorial” on basic media literacy.

◘ Last Feb. 20, Andanar in an interview with CNN said Senate reporters who covered the press-con of former Davao Death Squad member Arthur Lascañas, a retired police officer, were offered $1,000 (about P50,000) each.

On the same day, the Senate reporters issued a statement calling the disclosure irresponsible and demanding apology from Andanar.

What set it off

Andanar’s moves apparently were taken to help minimize the adverse effect of two stories about the president:

— Duterte’s public statement that, in effect, told the nation he’d declare martial law not for any of the grounds provided by the Constitution but solely “to preserve my nation,” which is not one of the said grounds.

–Testimony of the former cop and trusted aide who accused Duterte of using the Davao Death Squad to rid the city of crime suspects and the then mayor’s enemies.

Both “devastating” stories that would hurt his client.

Gripe about media

Andanar could very well voice out, as he did many times before, anything he’d find inaccurate or unclear in any news report about Duterte. PCO in fact has been correcting and clarifying in the wake of ambiguous presidential pronouncements.

But they have to offer valid and solid basis. Any disagreement on facts won’t be difficult to thresh out, as record of what Duterte says and what media reports are available.

It must astonish many people to watch Andanar fault Malacañang reporters for what appeared to be just another case of Duterte shooting his mouth off. Andanar could’ve just let it go or let the president’s counsel or spokesman clarify.

Instead, he unleashed an attack on the Palace press corps. And weeks later, he turned to criticize Senate reporters who covered Lascañas’s new accusations against Duterte.

“Moving on”

In a conversation with Cebu media last March 2, Andanar talked about “moving on” and making changes in strategy and procedures.

On the two embarrassing duels with the Manila press, he dodged questions whether he’d insist he was right and would insist on not apologizing. It’s over and done, he said.

Then he told us about changes in PCO (formerly known as PCOO). It would be converted into Office of the Press Secretary that would run Malacañang’s vast media arsenal.

Something good

But here’s the major change: Andanar would no longer be responsible for Duterte’s message, whose “transfer, content and distribution” will be managed by an office led by presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella (equivalent to Noynoy Aquino’s strategy unit).

Andanar is left with tasks in running the press office, which may take him away from direct fire but won’t remove his job of dealing with media. After all, he will be press secretary.

Twice burned, he must have learned a lot from the experience. As to the Senate reporters, something good happened. Competitively individualistic and resistant to organized action, they quickly formed into a collegial group to cope with Andanar’s assault and similar threats in the future.

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