MANILA, Aug 10 – Bloggers and other social media “influencers” who have more than 5,000 followers will be eligible for official press passes to cover Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, his aides said Thursday. The announcement caused a stir with some journalists in traditional media, amid a debate in which pro-Duterte bloggers have been accused of spreading “fake news” particularly in relation to the president’s drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.
The government said giving bloggers presidential press accreditations reflected the new media landscape in which social media personalities were competing with traditional institutions such as newspapers. “We have to recognise new media and their influence,” assistant presidential press secretary Kris Ablan told reporters. He said Margaux “Mocha” Uson, an influential blogger liked by more than five million people on Facebook who heads Duterte’s social media office, would oversee the accreditation process.
Uson rose to fame as a scantily dressed singer and model, then reinvented herself as a political force when Duterte won presidential elections last year. Skillful use of social media by Duterte, an acid-tongued politician who campaigned on a promise to kill tens of thousands of people in an unprecedented drugs crackdown, has been widely seen as one reason for his surprise landslide election win.
Uson, one of the most strident online supporters of Duterte during the campaign, has been regularly criticised by opponents for posts that allegedly carried false information and for trying to shame or humiliate critics of the president. The criteria for presidential press accreditation is that the blogger or social media influencer is a Filipino, aged over 18 and has more than 5,000 followers, according to Ablan.
Vergel Santos, a veteran journalist and a trustee for the Philippine media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said he opposed giving social media personalities press credentials. “Accrediting bloggers would encourage a blurring of the distinction between legitimate journalism and pseudo journalism – of which blogging happens to be today’s most typical example,” Santos told AFP. — AFP