LTFRB for Commercial Broadcasters?

LAST TUESDAY night’s fiasco on the small screens reflected how the politicization of pettiness has concretized into public policy that will shape in the years to come in our history textbooks.

Indeed, other telecommunication franchises lapsed but they were neither signed off nor discontinued any services. Alas, this incident was the byproduct of the people’s decision they have made four years ago; they have reaped the reward they sow.

While the remaining competitors’ solid fans “celebrated” the demise of Mother Ignacia’s airwaves anew with few of the closeted loyalists giving unsolicited advice as an opportunity to shine, it will be hard for them to be their replacement to the fallen media conglomerate in different aspects — especially, in the midst of the pandemic.

The politicization of pettiness and dismissiveness to listen to experts — the two dangerous components of the post-factual period — has led to the last straw: “It is time for Congress to lose their power to grant individual franchises for national broadcasts.”

While we respect the responsibility of telecommunications lies squarely on the national government (federal, for constitutional reformists out there), what would be the next step if we do indeed strip away the enforcement powers for broadcasters from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC)?

There was a quirk suggestion by Ana Marie Pamintuan’s Sketches on The Philippine Star published last Friday if all options fail for ABS-CBN:

For the long term, after this [ABS-CBN franchise non-renewal] controversy, lawmakers might want to de-politicize the issue and delegate their authority to grant franchises for broadcast airwave allotments to another entity.

This happened for a transport franchise that gave birth to the Land Transporation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

If we would have a commercial broadcasting counterpart, that would remind me of the United Kingdom with the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and its successor, Independent Television Commission (ITC) — now, as Office of Communications (OfCom) — with their franchise rounds of then-regional ITV in 1980 and in 1991, respectively.

 

Three Questions

First, how will this new agency be named?

The logical and naive answer that popped out in my mind right now is the Commercial Broadcasting Authority of the Philippines (CBAP). This is obviously different from the non-government sanctioned Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP). However, CBAP and KBP can work together as partners for sensible media regulations.

 

Second, How many members should form the CBAP?

Initially, CBAP shall be composed of one Chairman and four board members. However, we could allow more room for the academic, technical (that includes electronics and communications engineers), the financial and marketing sector.

 

Third, what should be the powers and functions?

Like the LTFRB, CBAP will be responsible for promulgating, administering, enforcing and monitoring compliance of policies, laws and regulations with regards to broadcasting. They will be in charge of awarding which companies the right to carry the frequencies on the radio (AM and FM) and television in the national (VHF) and regional (UHF) markets.

 

Stepping in the Conceptual Shoes

Okay, ikaw na! Question: How will you deal with the ABS’ fiasco?

It’s going to be a bit difficult.

In my prospects, a broadcaster’s individual assessment has to be made on what I called the F.O.O.T. note — pretty much like SOAPIE for nurses. They have to satisfy the criteria of:

  • Financial stability and feasibility. The media entity should have a stable financial record and its business plans for the medium term (5 to 6 years) are reasonable.
  • Organizational cooperation. Does this network have functioning core divisions?
  • Operational record. This is the weight of the matter for viewers. This is where the program’s quality — not just quantity — is also judged. Does the composition of their programs favor one genre over another? Are their programming grid overreliant from another network or are they self-sustaining?
  • Technical capability. Do they have sufficient equipment? Are their programs HD compatible? Is the network diligently testing for digital television?

Each aspect is synergetic to one another.

If they have an unqualified record (in other words, at an acceptable level) for every aspect, they can proceed. If not, they can be rectified but if they didn’t improve by that given amount of time, they have to ship out. That’s how competition exists.

Unlike the present regime where individual franchises for 25 years are up for grabs racing for that limited resource, the CBAP will review all in the VHF and UHF territory every 5 to 6 years. Within 18 to 24 months before the period, they are required to release the periodic report on which channels in both bands will remain and which will not.

If that will apply with the fiasco, ABS-CBN would not have been off the air, provided they have to correct the errors of their ways, but another one would. (Won’t tell which one but you know what I’m talking about even if it hurts.)

 

Afterthought

That being said, it’s hard to tell if this piece of policy will work out since often to always, people with good ideas are quashed by self-serving politicians and bureaucrats.

However, this is not the first time I have formulated a policy with regard to broadcasting, and of course, I am ready to accept the backlash.


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