Anti-Social Media: The Usual Christmas Story


December 2013

‘Tis the season for satisfaction, that time of the year when everyone whom the press has put on the spot, except for people like Janet Lim-Napoles who will have to act through proxy, gets to see serious journalists bend over backwards for whatever scraps are still left in the public relations budgets.

And the scraps are sizable, if rumors are to be believed, with one conglomerate reportedly shelling out close to a million pesos to fete journalists covering the rarefied Makati beats.

It would be, after all, awkward to turn down an earnest journalist asking for a few gifts to liven up the corps Christmas party.*

At best, you offend a potential ally in the media. At worst, the whole mob will turn against you and nothing you will ever say on the record will ever be heard by anyone but yourself.

Some beats have it better than others in the same way that some beats are more important—to advertisers and sources rather than readers—than others. The police beats will have to make do with a couple of thousands pesos, a roast pig or two, and a case of lower-shelf brandy.

Journalists covering the fire departments will be lucky to get anything at all because they are practically only ever in the news when a fire breaks out. In which case, that is bad news for all. In a bit of good luck, these reporters usually also cover the police and local governments, so they will still have something to look forward to.

They will probably not be looking forward to fires or crimes, however, as these will spoil the party.

Reporters covering Congress will be spoiled for choice, although pickings will be slightly better at the Senate than at the House of Representatives, where you never know whether you’ll get a laptop, a phone, or a monogrammed cap.

With more than 200 lawmakers at the House, even discounting those who do not bother showing up to sessions could mean an impressive haul. That doesn’t even include the mandatory gifts from the Speaker of the House, his deputies, and floor leaders. We technically even have two minority “blocs”** now. Even if they all gave away cookies, that would mean a lot of cookies, and, probably, diabetes a few years down the road.

At the Senate, there are fewer parties but better prizes. At some, you will get a prize simply for showing up. Other senate staff, though, will make you work a little harder by declaring costume themes and promising prizes for the best skit or presentation or song.

It’s all in good fun, of course. It is also in bad taste, and not even because it is borderline cruel to make an adult wear a costume—usually a badly-done one—and dance for money. It is in bad taste because it is, essentially, if you strip away the tinsel and the costumes, a bribe.

True, the prize money is earned, after a fashion, but not even a high-class Air Force One girl earns that much for so little effort and so little skill.

In some beats, groups even reportedly get money from sources so they can rent costumes and practice their presentations for their parties. That doesn’t even include the cost of the actual parties, which are shouldered by sources as a… What exactly? As a thank you for bothering them at any time of day during the rest of the year to ask questions that they’re expected to answer accurately? A gratuity for fact-checking their statements?

It has been a rough year for our members of the media, though. After all, aside from the usual watch-dogging against corruption, they also had to contend with the Bohol earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda.

With all those bad vibes to deal with, most companies cancelled their Christmas parties and donated the money to calamity victims instead. Not everyone did, though, and a little bit was set aside for media relations. After all, in media, the news never sleeps and the Christmas party never ends.

*The whole situation is awkward. But let us pretend, as journalists and sources do, that this is all in the spirit of the season and not a thinly-veiled game of barter and countertrade.

**Super minorities

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