MANILA, AUGUST 2, 2012 (STANDARD) By Jojo Robles - Once again, President Noynoy Aquino has decided to teach the media how to do its job.

During the anniversary party of ABS-CBN’s “TV Patrol,” Aquino lambasted “Kabayan” Noli de Castro, the lead news anchor of the giant broadcast network often accused of being part of Malacañang’s propaganda machine, for highlighting bad news and failing to report the good.

It seems only yesterday when Aquino, then part of the opposition and seeking to replace Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the palace, could find nothing good with what the government was doing. It is supremely ironic that Aquino, as President, now implores the media to praise his administration’s Conditional Cash Transfer program —even if he never found anything good with this Arroyo-initiated handout scheme when he first sought to portray his predecessor as evil incarnate.

But Aquino failed to see the irony in peddling a story that he never saw anything good in, when he was still seeking the presidency.

In the same manner, he failed to distinguish during the same talk that his vows to give a gun to every policeman and to eliminate the shortage of classrooms were not actually “facts,” as he called them, but mere promises.

Unfortunately for Aquino, even the most sycophantic of the media outlets that went all-out for his election two years ago cannot be expected to take orders from him, unless they truly want to lose their audience share and the financial viability that comes with it. And despite his vast powers and the business interests of the owners of these organizations, which regularly need the intervention of whoever resides in Malacañang, he cannot fire De Castro.

That decision—like the decision to push for Aquino in his campaign for the presidency—is something only the owners of ABS-CBN can make. And when Gabby Lopez decided to hire back De Castro after his stint as Arroyo’s vice president, Lopez knew that he was making a big gamble.

On the one hand, TV Patrol at the time was being clobbered by GMA’s “24 Oras” newscast, something which required ABS-CBN to bring back its old reliable anchor, just half a year after it had helped Aquino to power. And the Lopez network probably knew, as well, that it was only a matter of time before Aquino would find something wrong with De Castro —who, after all, was nominally the second-highest official of the hated Arroyo regime.

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To Aquino, ABS-CBN’s decision to give top anchor chores to De Castro was probably the height of disloyalty. Never mind if De Castro shares the primetime news program with the Palace-friendly Korina Sanchez, who is only the wife of Aquino’s running mate and consiglieri, Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas.

(This is the other half of the supposed question of journalistic ethics that is never stated by the pundits who have joined Aquino in bashing De Castro for his previous politics. Apparently, it is horrific that De Castro had served in the Arroyo administration, even if there is nothing wrong with his co-anchor being the wife of a top official of this government.)

It is inconceivable for Aquino that a network that supported his campaign (and which supports him up to now) can hire as its top anchor someone so closely associated with the administration whose persecution he has made his sole purpose for governing. And when this anchor apparently forgets that he is working for a network committed to the service of the Aquino administration and makes occasional critical editorial comments, Aquino feels his worst suspicions are vindicated.

Ultimately, however, Aquino’s problem with De Castro is rooted in the President’s misunderstanding of what the role of media in a democratic society should be. Forgetting his cynical use of a critical media to gain power, Aquino is now convinced that the press exists not as a counter-weight to government but as its loyal ally and private-sector booster.

But regardless of how many network and newspaper owners, columnists, commentators, editors and reporters Aquino has in his pocket, and who together create the roar in the giant propaganda echo chamber that this administration seems to require in order to function, there will always be dissonant voices. And these few should be forgiven if they believe that their role is not to act as an extension of the already awesome Malacañang media juggernaut but as critics who also play an important role in keeping government, if not honest, then at least on its toes.

It would be different if the Aquino administration was always doing the right thing, thus ridding the country of the need for criticism. But someone has to point out the ineptitude, incompetence and out-and-out stupidity, even through the much-watered down versions that co-opted news organizations like ABS-CBN allow employees like De Castro to make, from time to time.

Unless government owns all of media or has shut down all democratic discourse, Aquino cannot demand 24/7 praise. Now, as they say in broadcast, back to you, Noynoy.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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