Speaker Lord Allan Velasco

[Pre-SONA Special] Can PTV really be editorially independent?


[Requested by MJH]

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the run-up to President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, we will tackle one of the legacies between him and the media. This blog post is dedicated to Howard Johnson, a BBC correspondent in our country and Jules Guiang, who is now in Rappler.]

PLANTITO-STYLED SONA. Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte personally delivered his penultimate (5th) State of the Nation Address in Batasang Pambansa with limited attendance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

FINALLY, the last SONA of President Rodrigo Duterte is upon us. After this, there will be no more rants that come from his bruised ego heart, right? (SPOILER: Not quite, he has more every week after this.)

His valedictory SONA will be a verdict to judge his legacy but the people had already decided before that and they knew who will succeed him for next year’s election.

Before he will deliver his last annual speech to the 18th Congress this Monday afternoon inside Batasang Pambansa, I would like to share an excerpt of his maiden SONA on July 25, 2016 (with ad-libs):

To better manage public information, a law should be passed – I’m addressing Congress– to create the People’s Broadcasting Corporation, replacing PTV-4, [applause] the government-run TV station, which now aims to replicate international government broadcasting networks.  Teams from these international news agencies — I’d like to mention those interested BBC — are set to visit the country soon to train people from government-run channels to observe. Ito ang gusto ko — tutal pera naman ng tao — to observe editorial independence through innovative programs [applause] and intelligent treatment and analysis of news reports, as well as developments of national and international significance.

The government’s Bureau of Broadcast Services, better known as the Radyo ng Bayan,  shall undergo upgrading to make it financially viable and dependable for accurate and independent, and enlightening news and commentary. Radyo ng Bayan will be integrated with the PBC.

As we are presently setting up a Presidential Communications Satellite Office in Davao City, PBC will also put up broadcast hubs in the Visayas and Mindanao. [applause] Davao City will also be the first site of the first Muslim channel, to be called Salaam Television, [applause] and the first Lumad channel. [applause]

Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte (July 25, 2016)

Well, he fulfilled about the Salaam TV which took off a year later as the People’s Television Network (PTV) digital subchannel but the Lumad channel didn’t and became a TV program. He got the Mindanao Hub at his bailiwick in Davao City — which was opened last year — became fully operational since last March. (This is going to be used as a weapon for its remaining die-hard supporters in their interpretation of his legacy.)

Legislation regarding the People’s Broadcasting Corporation remains pending in Congress. By now, the chance to make it will be slim as the 3rd Regular Session of this current Congress will have the shortest number of session days on account to the filing and campaigning of politicians for May 9, 2022.

But look at a specific passage of text earlier, what does editorial independence mean? Did they ever try to uphold it?

(more…)

Allowing Foreign Ownership or Direct Investments in the Philippine Media


[Requested by MJH]

LORDING THE HOUSE. House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco is spearheading a radical plan of action for the recovery in COVID-19 and people are still getting skeptical about this.

EARLIER THIS MONTH, House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco made a pronouncement on amending our Constitution as a path to recovery from the pandemic as Moody’s Analytics feared that our country will be dead last in bouncing back among Asia-Pacific nations. Currently, they are tackled at their Committee on Constitutional Amendments with a problem on which mode they’ll use.

Whenever people think of constitutional reform or in lesser syllables, Charter Change, they are automatically associated with “term extension” for incumbent politicians who do not much represent or do not earn the trust of the public.

However, the third person in the Presidential line of succession specified that the economic provisions (a.k.a. the 60-40 rule) will be amended. The intention to place such an amendment will be put to a public vote next year, alongside the Presidential election.

It may sound radical to you, dear readers, but not for those associated with constitutional reform advocacy groups. Allowing foreign direct investments of all industries (including mass media) is a stepping stone to bounce back our economy from the impacts of the pandemic (e.g. closures of small and non-essential businesses and repatriation of OFWs).

So how does this idea apply to our sphere of mass media?

Quick PH Media History Lesson

The South Triangle Duopoly was founded initially as radio stations in Manila and were operated by American citizens. This is due to the Parity Rights approved in 1947. When President Ferdinand Marcos got his 1973 Constitution ratified (with more protectionism clauses, including mass media) and let the Parity Rights expire the year after. From that point onward, this is where Felipe Gozon and the gang stepped in to get Channel 7 from Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart (even though the founder stayed in the country until a decade after) and the unforgettable brand of Marcosian cronyism began.

To this day, the present (1987) Charter continues the prohibition of any foreigner or foreigner to own any percentage of ownership in mass media as stated under Article XVI, Sec. 11 (1):

The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.

(The) Congress shall regulate or prohibit monopolies in commercial mass media when the public interest so requires. No combinations in restraint of trade or unfair competition therein shall be allowed.

This provision was invoked by GMA Network’s lawyers against TV5 in 2008, which soon resulted in Channel 5’s partnership with MPB Primedia to cease and handed over to the present reins of Manny V. Pangilinan’s MediaQuest.

At the tail-end of the preceding decade, President Rodrigo Duterte accused Rappler of the allegations of being not owned by Filipinos, which a year later lost its registration with the Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) for issuing Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs). The same accusation is thrown against the Six-Letter Media Giant by Congress last year that put their lease in life as a TV broadcaster to its consequential fate.

In this living zeitgeist of the challenged yet the globalized economy, they say, Nadine Lustre-style, that it’s “2021 na, not 19-copung-copung.” For Velasco’s case, they’ll append the wordings “unless provided by law” but constitutional reform advocates (even the most hardcore ones) wanted those provisions deleted altogether.

Removing the barriers of entry doesn’t mean a sudden — albeit, gradually — the hegemonic takeover of the nearest rising superpower than the traditional one but as an encouragement to challenge head-to-head competition between their firms and ours and a means to diversify our portfolio and sources of funding. (For a start, we can make amends with Southeast Asian neighbors.)

 

What Would Happen in Our Media?

Tackling the pros and cons of lifting economic barriers in all industries is cumbersome but we can tackle it in one specific industry: the media industry. How will this result?

First of all, we cannot undo the specifics that they agree upon. For one, we already adopted the digital TV standard, the ISDB-T from Japan, but it significant deficiencies. Like in the Land of the Rising Sun, we are in the Pacific Ring of Fire wherein earthquakes are prone in the world. In the originating country, they already made the technology of the Early Earthquake Warning System but we didn’t due to misunderstanding with involved stakeholders (e.g. PHIVOLCS, NTC and digital TV receiver manufacturers). Nevertheless, if any of their expertise stationed here, then we could have set a clear policy for the whole Emergency Warning Broadcast System (EWBS).

Operations-wise, liberalizing the economy could mean easier content distribution. For an anime fan, they want the latest anime to reach our shores (legally) as soon as possible.

The Networks’ Response

  • Had that Six-Letter Broadcaster continued with the lease of their life in the free airwaves, they would procure high-tech cameras and their transmission equipment would’ve gone into an astounding 4K UHD quality by now and everyone else would follow. *sigh*
  • GMA’s endless promotion of Voltes V: Legacy will finally be materialized when representatives of Toei Company get the checking and supervision in-site.
  • TV5, the network that aired last year’s Asian Television Awards, will probably take some cues and best practices from their continental neighbors.
  • For CNN Philippines, they will have an easier link with the headquarters in Atlanta and other worldwide bureaus.
  • PTV will easily make partnerships with public broadcasters around the world. (Good luck getting the audience though.)

On OTT

 

Perhaps, the best case for raising economic liberalization is due to this news. In 30 days, Disney+ will enter Southeast Asian territory, specifically in Singapore and soon in their neighbor, Malaysia. And here at home, we all just wonder why and drool with jealousy and envy.

 

Conclusion

The mistakes of 2020, including the after-effects of the pandemic, will continue to persist this year and beyond if we don’t get a course of action and this is just one of them.

Of course, removing protectionist provisions doesn’t mean we have to go with the status quo as the reformists persistently believed. Pitching to make our country business-friendly is not a simple walk in the park if the leaders and representatives do not behave well, especially with the incumbent leadership. (No wonder, they wanted a shift to a parliamentary form of governance but that would be a story for another time.)


What do you think? Is it the best time to lift the restrictive economic provisions?


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Photos courtesy of House of Representatives of the Philippines and Walt Disney Company

Will a People’s Initiative for a Broadcast Franchise Prosper?


[Requested by Charles Michael Tapuyao]

“LABAN KAPAMILYA!”

That is the battle cry of ABS-CBN supporters that continues to surge on the streets and online almost seven months after they were off the air, almost five months since Congress rejected the broadcast franchise renewal and almost two months under the new blocktime agreement with ZOE Broadcasting Network as A2Z.

But that is not enough. All they wanted is to restore to its pre-shutdown state — at least on TV (since radio could be easily taken away to new applicants).

Other than the two approaches that will end up being fruitless and dismissed as noise, another mode is made through a petition, dubbed as PIRMA Kapamilya.

The aim of PIRMA Kapamilya is to get enough signatures by the end of this year (27 days from now). Despite the negative limelight during his stint in public office, former Vice President Jejomar Binay took part.

While some are brave enough to go outside and wrestle their pen on paper, others are scared to do so because of the real concentration of political power that will lead to calculated, certain failure.

In this post, we might ask the following questions: How does the People’s Initiative work? How do some professionals see the situation? How will the remaining media outlets respond? Are there any other ways and when will they come back if ever?

 

What is the People’s Initiative?

The People’s Initiative is a broad term that is divided into classes: a mode of amending the Constitution or a mode of pushing an initiative (national or local) to become a statute of its own, aside from those passed in the traditional procedures in Congress.

To amend the Constitution, Article XVII, Section 2 provides:

Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes therein. No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter.

The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.

For the legislative initiative or referendum, Article VI, Section 32 states:

The Congress shall, as early as possible, provide for a system of initiative and referendum, and the exceptions therefrom, whereby the people can directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law or part thereof passed by the Congress or local legislative body after the registration of a petition therefor signed by at least ten per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters thereof.

The enabling law is cemented and reaffirmed in Republic Act No. 6735, passed on August 4, 1989.

The Characteristics and the Process of People’s Initiative

In the present case, this is considered a national initiative. The petition must include the following (Sec. 5, RA No. 6735):

  • contents or text of the proposed law sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed, as the case may be
  • the proposition
  • the reason or reasons therefor;
  • that it is not one of the exceptions provided herein;
  • signatures of the petitioners or registered voters; and
  • an abstract or summary proposition in not more than one hundred (100) words which shall be legibly written or printed at the top of every page of the petition.

To get it passed, it should get a signature of 10% of registered voters nationwide, of which a part (legislative districts) must be represented at least 3%.

Within 30 days from the receipt of the petition, the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) will determine the sufficiency of the petition. If it’s sufficient, it will publish the same in Filipino and English at least twice in newspapers of general and local circulation and set the date of the initiative or referendum not be earlier than forty-five (45) but not later than ninety (90) days.

If a majority passes, it becomes a law of its own with the usual effective date (15 days after publication in the Gazette or two newspapers in general circulation). If it fails, the prevailing law maintains.

The Recent Attempt for a P.I.

The recent attempt for a People’s Initiative arose from the Million People March in August 2013, arising from the Napoles pork barrel scam bombshell report a month ago. From June to August 2014, a multisectoral alliance-driven proposition wants to criminalize pork barrel fund creation and spending. However, the Supreme Court made the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

Despite the unconstitutionality of both mechanisms, Cebu Archbishop Jose S. Palma (who lead that particular people’s initiative) reiterated the importance as members of Congress continued to enjoy other forms of discretionary funds and often, under different names.

The initiative failed to turn out because other than the lack of knowledge of the situation, some families who had children enrolled in schools under politicians’ pork-funded scholarships refused to sign the proposition. In other words, they were threatened.

 

The Effectiveness of the PIRMA Kapamilya (present) situation

Media enthusiasts (who are not network fantards or serial haters) and related professionals (e.g. electronics engineering) are divided on this matter.

Political scientists but are non-lawyers have a split opinion on the matter, even if they have otherwise convictions, but they mostly agree that it couldn’t happen with the remaining 18 months of the presidential mandate.

Those who took up law and became attorneys have doubts about the legalistic perspective of this initiative. For one, two attorney-commentators of a radio show in DWIZ 882 kHz wouldn’t see this prosper. Their main argument is that granting a broadcast franchise of a private corporation will depend exclusively on the desire of Congress. Other lawyers have seen no explicit provisions prohibiting it — meaning a potential loophole exists that would allow PIRMA Kapamilya to proceed.

 

The (Impossible) Media Coverage

Should this particular movement happen, even though it would sound surreal and impractical, it would play a role in the media coverage. We can agree that no surviving media networks would hold ever hold a marathon for this prospective initiative as it is not like in Election Day. However, each network has a different response if the PIRMA Kapamilya gets in the way:

Surviving TV networks

  • GMA, their former competitor, would be hesitant to cover; not even on GMA News TV or their news website.
  • For TV5, where a chunk of the Kapamilya talents took refuge through blocktimers, it won’t happen on the main channel but One PH would tackle it on every radio program simulcast. Their news site, InterAksyon, could cover with updates.
  • CNN Philippines, where some of their personalities used to work on ABS, could cover in certain newscasts and some programs (e.g. The Source).
  • Government media networks like PTV and IBC wouldn’t cover the matter as their newscasts favor the incumbent President and defend with all their hearts and minds. The former may have enough time but the latter cannot as it is committed to the DepEd TV distance learning program.
  • SMNI, the “enabler” media outlet behind the fall of Mother Ignacia due to the opinions and news angles against the former media giant, would not deliver it; if it did, they would comment in a pessimistic angle. Other denomination-influenced UHF networks wouldn’t care.

Radio

As we said on DWIZ 882, this will be skeptical due to the personalities, even though one displaced Kapamilya talent (Vic de Leon Lima) was there. DZRH, where Dos Por Dos is on right now, will be a 50-50. For those who are asking about DZBB 594 or Radyo 5 92.3 News FM, look above for GMA’s and TV5’s insights, respectively. Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS) AM stations will follow PTV’s path (ignore ’em).

Social media news sites

Rappler — the closest ally of Mother Ignacia as they are one of the common critical media outlets of this incumbent administration — would be interested.

 

Another Ways or Wait until 2022

Should this prosper, there would be taking objections from lawyers and they will file petitions to the Supreme Court. Let’s face it, in the end, judicial rulings are mostly decided on technicalities and often, the influence of the appointees rather than on the spirit and sentiment based on historical facts.

Jojo Ragragio’s column on Malaya Business Insight and few members of the legal academe on Twitter thought that this particular movement would not prosper but instead use that mode to review, repeal and replace the legislation behind the weaponization: Act No. 3864, a.k.a. Radio Control Law, which was enacted in 1931 – four years before our country became the transitionary Commonwealth – that was subsequently amended in 1950.

In Congress, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman immediately filed House Bill 299 after the committee’s rejection but they need a replacement to comply with the more modern framework for frequency spectrum management. At this juncture, it will be impossible to proceed as it is not considered a priority — even if there is a congressional leadership putsch after the change of speakership from Alan Cayetano to Lord Allan Velasco — and it may not be the attention as long as the power is virtually absolute at the helm of the strongman in the Palace.

For some netizens, it was their final straw and they decided to join the organizations that advocates for a total rewrite and rectification of the Constitution where its aim is to remove the protectionist provisions (ICYDK, under the present charter, media ownership must be fully-owned and maintained by Filipino citizens and corporations) and shifting to a new form of government before they proceed with this. While it has gained momentum lately, this push might not succeed due to the remaining time left until the next election and other measures to tackle within their club.

That being said, the safest (yet disappointing) way would be to put it into the wish list (open letter) for the next presidential administration — even if a candidate wouldn’t care about the heavily-defined incident during their future campaign. We hope that whoever we choose on May 9, 2022, can hear about this on his or her maiden State of the Nation Address on July 25, 2022.


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Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN