Vultures circling

Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) – November 16, 2020 – 12:00am

While the whole nation is suffering from the destruction caused by a parade of typhoons in the last two months, this has not stopped a mixed group of people from fanning what promises to be a major public relations battle over who gets to “renovate” or “develop” the Ninoy Aquino International Airport complex or NAIA. It seems that some businessmen who were part of “The Consortium” have not given up their stake or claim on the project and insist on being allowed to continue with what they originally proposed and worked on for over a year. On the other side of the fence and the latest to be given “original proponent status” is the company Megawide who confidently waves its accomplishment in rebuilding and developing the Cebu-Mactan International terminal.

On the surface each group has quietly gone about pushing for their respective business interest. However, it would seem that certain groups or individuals have happily taken up the position of proxy fighters or have offered their services as mercenary PR providers. In addition, one or two politicians have apparently jumped into the fray, perhaps hoping that as they stoke the PR feud to boiling point, one of the companies might opt to buy peace or reward their political group with a large reward in terms of a campaign contribution.

Given that the next election is already being scoped by politicians seeking re-election, it won’t surprise me to see members of the Consortium or Megawide being squeezed via press release by politicians questioning the project, the proponents or every decision of the DOTr. Actually, it is more probable that politicians will beat down on a government agency instead of a businessman or corporation since politicians know only too well not to hurt or beat “the goose that lays the golden egg.” Aside from politicians beating the bush to catch their political feast, it seems that even so-called professional PR & advertising agencies have stepped into the mess by giving presentations to businessmen and CEOs on how to manage their PR crisis and communications regarding the NAIA renovation project.

Last Friday evening, a friend who has held various positions in government called to inform me that a PR/ad agency with a foreign sounding name had submitted a proposal to his bosses offering to manage their current issue and the negative publicity that some people were trying to rake up. What caught his attention and shocked him was the claim of the PR group that they could approach and engage an actual list of opinion writers/columnists and talk show hosts. In order to do this, the client would have to pay P50,000 for each column feature and P35,000 for a short interview on radio or cable TV on top of the professional fees that the PR company would be charging. I won’t mention who were included in the list but suffice it to say that my friend saw my name and the names of some of the hardest hitting columnists in town. Fortunately, my friend has known me long enough to know that such a claim was totally false, which was why he called me to let me know about it.

It is highly possible that these PR frauds were simply trying to make it appear that money talks and they can actually bribe media or pay us to sing their tune, which is why some people allude to paid hacks as Juke Boxes; drop a coin and it plays your song. But any veteran journalist or broadcaster will tell you that even the “characters” in the profession will first look at the story, its news value and authenticity more than anything else. Regardless of the source and the means, the story needs to be true and the facts straight, otherwise no amount of PR or grease money will legitimize a falsehood or really bad image. In addition to this, media groups such as The Philippine STAR have several editors at different levels and nothing gets past them.

The PR agency’s gutter rat style of convincing desperate clients is criminal in the sense that it stains our reputation, accuses us of selling a company trust and property for personal profit and, as presented in a business proposal, it is effectively libelous. Such a false claim is the reason that people, especially corporate executives, have the wrong impression of media people. As far as I am concerned, these low lifes are the ones promoting the notion of Envelopmental Journalism. They charge would be clients a sack full of money for a fictitious fear-driven strategy, then like a double blade saw they cut the clients’ pockets once again by collecting grease money that the PR company also keeps for themselves. In the meantime, they approach media for help to fight an injustice, a corrupt official, or provide us with the information they know we would actually print for free in the name of public interest. All this, of course, is not new to us in media. Even during Martial Law, it was reported that names of non-working, unemployed journalists were on an alleged payroll of Malacañang. A well-known radio anchor from DZRH once discovered that a congressman back in the ’90s regularly used his name and the name of other media personalities whenever he would eat at a well-known Japanese restaurant. In response the radio anchor dubbed the guy “Congressman Furasato.”

In any case, it is clear that the PR war over the NAIA rehabilitation will surely heat up and if I get the information I asked from my friend, the first casualty will be the PR agency that had the audacity to sell us to their clients behind our backs. I’m sure every columnist and talk show host included in the list will be sharpening an axe to get those turkeys!

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