COMMUNITY JOURNALISTS have raised the alarm over a growing trend among many local government officials to use public funds to buy airtime or print space to push their personal or political interests to the public.
This was one of many concerns raised by participants in the first leg of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s (PCIJ) advanced investigative reporting seminar for 18 journalists from the Visayas region.
The concern was raised by Cebu journalists during a briefing by Director Carmelita Antasuda of the Commission on Audit on how the COA audits the local government sector.
One participant noted how more and more city and town mayors were using LGU funds as their own private fund to buy broadcast airtime “in order to promote themselves or hit their critics.”
At the very least, these mayors use these public funds to “articulate their advocacies and programs,” the journalist said.
The journalist asked whether the use of public funds for these purposes is allowed under COA rules, considering that the funds are being used for the personal or political interests of the local official.
Antasuda said that these expenses have to be contained in the local government unit’s annual investment program, and had to have gone through the city or town council.
At the same time Antasuda said there are several types of audits that the COA conducts, from financial audits to performance audits, where COA tries to determine if the activity satisfies the objective of the project.
When Antasuda said that COA will start looking at these media contracts, the journalist-participants clapped.
Media groups have already raised alarm over how many political families in the countryside have started buying up local radio stations and newspapers especially before local elections. These political families have found it more financially and politically practical to simply buy their own news and media platforms than deal with local and national journalists.
At the very least, the practice blurs the line between media and politics; at the same time the practice tends to put local journalists at greater risks, since some of them are identified with political personalities because of the ownership of their media agency.