Compromising OPSEC: Philippine media have learned NOTHING ever since the Luneta incident!

Chalk it up to good old fashioned stubbornness on Philippine media’s part, maybe. However, one does not really have to be trained in the military to know what operations security (OPSEC) entails. Though an official definition is rather wordy, the spirit of it is that sensitive, or potentially compromising, information is very carefully handled, so that it doesn’t leak into those who should not get their hands on it.

To be fair, however, while Philippine Media is perhaps the most obvious culprit in lack of restraint, it is evident as well within the social media-addicted Filipino chattering classes. In order to demonstrate to non-Mindanaoans that Martial Law in Marawi is not as big a deal as they make it out to be, following reports of the Maute group being spotted within the city, some locals took pictures with military troops and vehicles.

The issue I see with pictures that include military units, is that the enemy can estimate troop size, location, and strength with them; assume that they’re monitoring media and social media as well. While inexcusable for everyone, mainstream media is supposed to know better. Let me quote something on Twitter: by revealing their location, and where they’re headed, mainstream media is putting our troops in harm’s way too.

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This is, of course, not really anything new. As far back as 2010, Philippine Media already stuck out like a sore thumb, with its utter lack of consideration for OPSEC…

In their pursuit for lucrative scoops under the banner of their self-appointed role of “guardians of truth and freedom”, the Media played a pivotal role not only in triggering the fatal descent into chaos of Mendoza’s hostage drama but also provided the world with a front-row look into the banal ineptness that has come to be associated (now even more indelibly) with the word “Filipino”.

Despite some commentary from news outlets after the Mendoza hostage situation, like this one, it seems that media has not really taken the lesson to heart:

Indeed, if the news managers had realized that the hostage-taker was watching the news live, would they have aired the position of the snipers and the assault team? Would they have shown the hostage drama continuously, at the expense of other prime time shows? Did the safety of the hostages cross their minds, or was the chance to get exclusive footage more important to them?

The issue of exclusivity has become a matter of concern for media watchers, in the light of the RMN interview of news anchor Michael Rogas that has been making the rounds of the Internet. The police have complained that they could not get through to Mendoza during the critical moments of the crisis, and the audio clip of the interview repeatedly stresses that it is an exclusive. Listeners have questioned why Rogas was asking Mendoza about his message to snipers and his “final decision” on the hostage crisis, which only seemed to fuel his anger. Again, one wonders if the radio station was motivated by the desire for a peaceful resolution, or simply a scoop.

The scoop is king. Prioritize exclusivity and first-to-market, all other considerations be damned. While media won’t say this out loud, it is so obvious from the way they act. And you know what media’s excuse will be:

We’re just doing our jobs.

One of my former bosses scored me for being just focused on my job, and not thinking about the bigger implications of what I do. In media’s case, despite several dressing downs by their critics, they still fail to consider the bigger implications – especially to national security – of the way they chase stories recklessly.

However, Philippine Media has also shown that, when it is an issue either involving one of its own, or close to its heart, IT IS capable of restraint. The media blackout when ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon was kidnapped in Sulu, even earlier than the Luneta hostage situation, shows us such:

Anti-crime advocate Teresita Ang-See on Sunday defended the limiting of information released on the kidnapping of ABS-CBN anchor-reporter Ces Oreña-Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion, and academic Octavio Dinampo in Sulu last week.

Ang-See defended the news blackout and ABS-CBN’s no-ransom policy in handling the case of Ces and company.

“Andami-daming speculation eh. The safety of the victim is always the paramount concern. Nothing else is more important than the safety of Ces Drilon and… [Jimmy] Encarnacion,” Ang-See said.

Let me spell it out clearly, if you haven’t figured it out yet:

Philippine Media is self-righteously selective about whom it applies its “journalistic discipline” towards.

Just recently, the college sorority blog-turned-gossiping hen party Rappler put itself in the spotlight yet again, for publishing “leaked” conversations between president Rodrigo Duterte, and US president Donald Trump. Manila Times columnist Bobi Tiglao cited the possible repercussions of such a move by the self-proclaimed “social news network”…

However, Rappler’s scoop has damaged the country’s image irreparably. It has made us a laughingstock of the whole world, with people saying that we have a government that can’t keep state secrets, according to my diplomatic sources who are shocked at the reports. (I do have such sources: I was an ambassador from 2005 to 2010.)

“How can any head of state now talk to your President frankly, when his talk with the world’s most powerful head of state, who has his own strict protocols for confidentiality, was released to the world, word for word?” a high-ranking foreign diplomat rhetorically asked. Because of this leak which became ammo for his many critics, I’m sure Trump will never talk to Duterte again.

Never has such a confidential conversation between heads of state been made public. Even the infamous Wikileaks website managed to disclose only reports written by diplomatic staff, and not transcripts of such confidential talks. Never in our modern history has such a document of the highest level of confidentiality been publicly released.

Senior Rapplerette Chay Hofileña, for her part, defended such a move by her outfit in a Facebook note, though written in Filipino (translation in bold).

Maraming classified reports at documents sa Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, Malacañang, at iba pang ahensya ng gobyerno. Sanay ang media na makakuha at makakita ng mga ganyan. Inilalabas ba lahat? Hindi. Depende sa public interest at panganib sa buhay.

Mamili ka: media na walang alam at walang nilalabas (ala North Korea) o media na nagbubusisi, nagkakalkal at naglalabas ng impormasyon? Gusto mo ng impormasyon para ka makapagdesisyon nang tama at para tama rin ang paghuhusga mo sa mga opisyal ng gobyerno di ba? Ayaw na ayaw nating niloloko tayo o di kaya’y pinagsisinungalingan, di ba?

There are many classified reports and documents at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, Malacañang, and other government agencies. Media is used to getting and seeing things like this. Do we publish everything? No. It depends on public interest and threat to life.

You need to choose: a media that knows and publishes nothing (ala North Korea), or a media that fusses over, digs up, and discloses information? You want information so that you can decide correctly and so that you can evaluate your government officials correctly, right? We don’t like being taken for fools or being lied to, do we?

Unfortunately, Hofileña’s argument merely reflects the small-mindedness under which her outfit operates. Apart from missing the elephant in the room – that outfits like Rappler have been blatantly selective on the entities they apply their “journalistic integrity” to – it fails to answer a bigger picture question: What are the bigger implications to national security if these documents are published?

Manila Standard columnist Jojo Robles, on the other hand, and also on Facebook, rips into the small-minded and horribly myopic argument that Rappler insists on:

Apart from exposing DFA as an unreliable channel and repository of confidential information, the disclosure only serves to show that any document, no matter how confidential, can be leaked. The act itself of gaining exclusive access becomes the story, in this case, not the contents of the leaked document.

This gratuitous, purposeless journalism. “Look at me,” the media outlet is saying. “I can get any document I want.”

If journalism serves a purpose, it is to expose wrongdoing or to prevent it from happening because the people need to know the truth that only journalists can ferret out.

Calling attention to your document-filching skills without regard for any inherent value the disclosure may have, as if that in itself is journalism, is not the purpose of the press.

Filipinos seem to overlook that one of the simplest changes they can make to themselves, is to distinguish between “need to know” and “want to know”. Unfortunately, with undisciplined, gossip-mongering press outfits like what is in the Philippines – self-proclaimed “thought leaders” to boot – Filipinos are still a long, long, way from the discipline and restraint that are practiced by – and are an integral part of – advanced societies.

5 Replies to “Compromising OPSEC: Philippine media have learned NOTHING ever since the Luneta incident!”

  1. I read something like that in the Cold War days, namely the USS Pueblo incident. When the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea, they took pictures of the crew to send to the U.S. The crew posed with their middle fingers out, as a hidden insult to their captors, and they just said it was a gesture of goodwill. Then the U.S. press got the photo and captioned that the crew were giving the finger as an insult. The North Koreans learned and so started torturing the prisoners for it.

    This and similar incidents are probably the times when media should keep its mouth shut. And, at times, media are not after the truth; they’re after the shock value of something, and that often compromises real world situations. No wonder newspapers, radio and TV (and maybe Internet) are banned for jurors in courts in the U.S.

  2. If the Media really wanted to show the truth…why was it not published those involved in the ; DAP scandal,;PDAF scandal; Gold reserve thievery of Aquino and his cahoots, etc…

    What would they gain by publishing the conversation of U.S. Pres. Trump; and Philippine President Duterte , that was supposed to be classified ?

    I believe the Media, should behave in a responsible way…there things that are for news…and there are things that should be kept secret, for the security of the country !

  3. I made a similar observation which I wrote about in a personal blog. Writing about the possibility of a war with China, I said:

    “The problem with the Philippines is that we never had a “martial tradition”. Procurements for the military are treated in the same way as any other government project rather than as a class of their own. This means that if we buy aircraft, for example, we have to put out a public bidding, everyone’s going to know how much our budget is, etc.

    “Naturally, the media is going to pick all this up and all of our tech acquisitions, both planned and accomplished are going to go on TV, print etc.

    “A little secrecy helps!

    “Chinese don’t need to fly spy satellites over us if the media keeps this up. All they need to do is download the iWantTV app and watch the news for everything relating to troop movements and deployment.

    “This is really a problem with our gossippy, I-can-piss-higher-than-you braggadocio culture. A new helicopter is big news! You can count on ABS-CBN showing off our latest frigate and letting the entire WORLD know exactly where it is anchored.”

  4. They would intend to learn if they’re really working FOR the people’s interest. So far, their actions show they’re either stupid, or it just isn’t part of their work protocol and ethic. Says a lot about where these media “broadcasting” place their priorities.

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