My friend and fellow Asian Correspondent blogger Tonyo Cruz, along with other bloggers, recently proposed the creation of a National Bloggers Association of the Philippines. Its objectives, as enumerated in this manifesto, are commendable.
The proposal has since elicited reactions that are both positive and negative. You can read the tweets about this proposal here.
I was initially wary of the idea, knowing how diverse and freewheeling the blogging community in the Philippines is. As you can glean from the reactions, one of the reasons why many oppose it is that they fear it would undermine the very principle of blogging as a medium of expression. Blogging, these critics argue, was invented precisely to counter the mainstream media monolith. A “national association,” therefore, contradicts that very idea. I agree, but Tonyo and company’s proposal is not to create a super-body that would govern bloggers. Far from that. If anything, the idea is to come up with an entity to protect the interests of bloggers.
This proposal should also be viewed in the context of Philippine politics and current events. We are a country where government and politicians often devise ways to curtail freedom of the press and of expression and where the mainstream press often fails in its duties to inform and empower the public. Taken in this context, blogging should be viewed as an alternative medium, which it is to a large degree, as has been proven in several recent instances when bloggers weighed in on important political and social issues.
Wouldn’t it be nice if blogging remained as something that we only do to rant about the lousy service at the restaurant, to post pictures of our pets, or to ruminate about how great or lousy our life is? But in reality, blogging is no longer just a hobby among many. It has evolved, it has become influential, it has become a potent force in the public discourse.
A look at how blogging has developed over the years necessitates the formation of the NBAPH or some such organization. Tonyo and company’s manifesto recognizes this, albeit delicately. “A long time has passed since the first blog posts and first blogging events,” the manifesto said. “We are now a bigger, stronger and influential community. Businesses, causes and government have started to organize themselves to interact and engage with us. And we also face challenges within and outside our growing community.”
Not surprisingly, there are forces that seek to ethically compromise bloggers, the same way that they seek to compromise journalists. Precisely because of the looseness of the medium, which admittedly is its main attraction, the ethical terrain in blogging is much more slippery than in journalism. But the impact of bloggers on the public discourse cannot be ignored or underestimated.
This is where standards — not rules, mind you — come in, the same way that journalists’ group have come up with their own set of standards. No one blogger can devise this set of standards — it has to be the community itself. The bloggers themselves — or at least those who harbor the conceit that what they do is important to the public discourse — should ensure that they are not compromised ethically. And they have to do it themselves and not wait for the government or some other entity to step in.
I don’t think the NBAPH is going to dictate on bloggers how to blog, what to blog about, etc. But if a blogger signs up, he or she should strive to live up to the principles of the group, as you would with any organization you sign up with. Membership should be voluntary and this association should not claim to represent all bloggers, or even the blogging community — the same way that the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines or the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines or National Press Club cannot claim to represent all journalists.
Having said that, online marketers, advertisers and PR people should not be involved in the formation and in the administration of this association. The same way that advertisers and marketers are not part of journalists’ groups such as the NUJP or the Focap. (Advertisers, marketers and public relations people can join the Focap, by the way, but only as so-called “associate members,” with no electoral or voting rights and are not involved in policymaking.)
The NBAPH (or whatever it’s name will be) should distinguish the bloggers from the marketers/advertisers/PR people and not accept the latter as regular members. In the Philippines and elsewhere, online marketers are using blogs to peddle their ware, disclosures and ethical considerations be damned, and many are known to pay off bloggers to promote their products and services, as the recent brouhaha over “big, bad blogger” showed.
For instance, the proponents of the NBAPH has to face squarely the issue concerning one of their own, Janette Toral of Digital Filipino. She is one of those who pushed the formation of this association and, in fact, the tempest online about NBAPH seems to have started when somebody who calls himself “Janitor Al” posted this rant about the proposal.
“Janitor Al” railed against the supposedly arrogant and pompous notion of gathering “millions upon millions” of Filipino bloggers. He may have a point there but my beef about Ms. Toral is not that — it is the conflict of interest that I see in her involvement in NBAPH. A look at her website indicates that she is involved in online marketing and public/business relations. The Digital Filipino Club’s About Us section reads: “What makes the club unique is its business promotion focus and knowledge sharing culture.” Its products and membership categories are geared toward this. (Update: Ms. Toral has responded to this blog and asked me to link to a FAQ that explains her involvement in NBAPH.)
Now, I don’t know Ms. Toral personally, I have never met her, I don’t have any quarrel with her and I write this without any malice. I have no issue with what she does or what her business does. She will become an issue, however, and only as far as I’m concerned, if she becomes a regular member or officer of the NBAPH. Ms. Toral is already an officer of the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines, a relationship that should have stopped her outright from even thinking of the NBAPH idea.
In fact, I think for delicadeza’s sake, Ms. Toral and other marketers pushing for the NBAPH should inhibit from the initiative. If they don’t, consider the NBAPH dead even before it is born.
Personally, I cannot be part of a group that has both bloggers and marketers as members of equal status, obviously because of the conflict of interest involved. But I signed up with NBAPH just the same because being a member would be the best way for me to take part in the process.
I don’t think the NBAPH could gather these “millions upon millions” of bloggers — and I don’t believe that it should — but it has to take this first step. And the only way for bloggers to make sure their interests are protected by the NBAPH, or whatever group that I’m sure will be formed sooner or later, is to take part in the process and not lose by default. If you find out later that it doesn’t do you any good, you can always quit. At least you can say you tried.