In a historic and unprecedented move, BlogWatch requested for and has been accredited by the Inauguration Accreditation Committee overseeing all the logistics for the inauguration on June 30 of President-Elect Benigno Simeon Aquino III and VP-elect Jejomar Binay.
Eight bloggers that included three production members were duly accredited by the Inauguration Committee. Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (Project Editor), Dine Racoma, Sonnie Santos, Brian Ong, and this writer were accredited as bloggers-writers while the production members accredited were Anton Sheker (blogger/photographer), Pocholo Gonzales (blogger for video coverage) and Peter Baltazar (videographer assistant).
An Uphill Battle for Credibility
Before this June 30 presidential inauguration, all past Philippine inaugurations have been covered solely by traditional media. That means TV, radio and print. That is not a surprise because online media is really only a phenomena that manifested itself prominently in this last decade. Bloggers have also not really been duly recognized alongside mainstream media for many reasons. While a good number of bloggers are into advocacies, education and other noteworthy causes, the term ‘blogger’ has been associated more closely with controversial blogs like the Brian Gorrell blog and the more recent issue involving Ella and the Department of Health (DOH) over donated items during Typhoon Ondoy.
When BlogWatch launched last year, it was our vision to simply provide another avenue to promote voter education. We began as a motley group of 16 bloggers and over the succeeding months, we grew to about 25 by the time of the May 10 elections. By the time the elections were over, BlogWatch had managed to interview several candidates running for national positions, train with PCIJ, attend several electoral fora and presidential debates, guest in several talk shows covering the elections, and host a 3-hour TV slot on Global News Network (GNN) last May 10 for its own election coverage.
Establishing credibility with candidates running in the May 10 elections and with media networks was not easy. Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, BlogWatch Project Editor, describes this uphill battle in her own words:
“When BlogWatch started in September 2009, we were unknown to politicians. Most of us are not even political bloggers. A staff of a presidential candidate wanted to check our motives — ‘Do you have political motivations?’ Getting the candidates to take us seriously was a challenge. Credibility needed to be established. The faith in bloggers started when Vibal Foundation hosted us in their Philippine Online Chronicles. We appreciate their efforts in helping us attain our goals. We’ve been tenacious in getting candidates to be interviewed and succeeded in getting seven out of the nine presidential candidates. Pretty soon, media outfits, presidential candidates and supporters started to follow us on Twitter or Facebook. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) released a report, Online Coverage of 2010 Elections: Citizen journalists at work, which said: ‘Unprecedented in the country’s election history, bloggers and citizen journalists covering the 2010 elections were given media accreditation IDs by the Commission on Elections (Comelec)’.”
Media Accreditation – One Baby Step at a Time
The May 10, 2010 elections held a lot of firsts. First nationwide automated elections. First election comprehensively covered by bloggers and actively participated in by citizens.
BlogWatch took its first baby step towards media accreditation when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) officially accredited BlogWatch bloggers, allowing unrestricted access to areas of election activity — from precincts to canvassing areas to both Houses of Congress. It was the very first acknowledgement that a blogger group had gained enough credibility to be acknowledged as a legitimate new media outfit by no less than Comelec.
Our second baby step came last week when BlogWatch joined the ranks of mainstream media who were present at a media briefing by the Inaugural Committee. We were the only blogger group present at that meeting and personally, it was a very humbling experience for me as I realized the big responsibility placed on our shoulders by that accreditation.
Today, June 28, we are pleased to announce still another accreditation accorded BlogWatch. The coverage in Malacanang Palace after the oathtaking of President-Elect Noynoy Aquino, which, due to the sheer number of media accredited, is being limited to the incoming and outgoing Malacanang Press Corps and selected members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) has been extended to Noemi and to myself.
A Paradigm Shift for Government and Bloggers
I tried to google for information on two fairly recent inaugurations: that of President Obama of the United States in 2009 and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK. Most of the articles that I came across did talk about the greater role of social networks and new media in those countries’ elections and inaugurations. But the blogs and social network sites belonged to either mainstream media or to citizens who decided to live blog or live tweet the proceedings.
What now appears to be a blogging first, if not globally, at least within the Philippine blogosphere, is that BlogWatch’s accreditation marks the first time that a blogger group is actually allowed, officially, to cover a presidential inauguration from start to finish.
I am very positive and hopeful with these developments. For one, it signals a paradigm shift and acknowledges the growing role that bloggers can play in good governance and reportage. Second, it reinforces my own hope that the incoming administration is walking the talk about transparency and openness. After all, bloggers potentially would have diverse opinions on different issues and the Aquino administration has all the opportunity to listen to a group of citizens (young and wise in years) who will call it as they see it.
On the other hand, those of us who are in BlogWatch now are aware we are being handed a big responsibility as well that we need to take care of. We are being called upon to continue seeking the truth, be fair in our reporting, and where possible, air all sides of an issue. Being new at citizen vigilance and reportage, we are sure to commit bloopers every now and then but it will be a great learning experience for the great majority of us who began our blogging lives writing about topics close to our hearts like food, travel, parenting, etc — a far cry from politics. But despite our diverse backgrounds and interests, one thing binds all BlogWatch writers and that is our love for this country and our desire to see the incoming administration chart the way to ridding it of the moral and economic malaise it is in now and make this a far better country for future generations.
What Next for BlogWatch?
Where BlogWatch goes from the inauguration remains to be seen but already, Noemi dreams big dreams for our once-unknown group. She says:
“The media accreditation of bloggers, first by the Comelec, followed by the Media Accreditation Team of the Inaugural Committee is an affirmation of our work at BlogWatch. Accreditation will make us move forward in seeking recognition of bloggers as a credible source of underplayed stories and playing a role as citizens’ watchdog.
I am quite pleased that bloggers are given this opportunity to cover the Inaugural because our online community looks forward to our commentaries, videos and photos from the perspective of a social media user. The media accreditation inspires me, as the project editor of BlogWatch, to continue the work of citizens’ transparency and good governance.”
We were faced with a challenge which we took up when we all banded together to form BlogWatch. We believe we succeeded in becoming a moving force in making voters more aware of issues and candidates during the elections. And now, we are eager to face whatever new challenges come our way.
This challenge is not BlogWatch’s alone as there were several blogger groups during the elections who worked alongside us and inspired us with their own dedication and work ethics to be even better at what we do. We give credit to bloggers from like 100Araw.com and Filipino Voices who were in the political scene way ahead of BlogWatch. We are also grateful to our countless blogger friends who are too many to name here but who continued to encourage us and helped spread our work via their own blogging networks throughout the early days of BlogWatch.