December 1, 2023 People's Journal 146 views

THE National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) have identified potential violations by Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) when one of its anchors claimed that Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez spent P1.8 billion on travel within a year—an allegation debunked by officials of the House of Representatives based on official records.

Representatives from NTC and KBP were unequivocal in sharing their observations during Thursday’s House Committee on Legislative Franchises hearing on the allegation made by SMNI host Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz in the network’s program “Laban Kasama Ang Bayan.”

Under continuous questioning from lawmakers, Celiz disclosed that his source is a male Senate employee but refrained from divulging the identity, citing a law that safeguards journalists from being compelled to disclose their news sources.

House Secretary General Reginald Velasco, accompanied by Deputy Secretary General for Finance Dante Roberto Maling, presented the financial report on foreign travel expenses for the entire chamber.

The report revealed that from January to October this year, the total expenditure was only P39.6 million, which included P4.3 million for the Office of the Speaker. This figure significantly contrasts with the whopping P1.8 billion claimed by Celiz.

When lawmakers sought his comment during the hearing, NTC Deputy Commissioner Alvin Blanco said: “There appears to be infractions, Mr. Chair, on certain provisions of the franchise, particularly the reference provision on Section 4 on the responsibility of the franchisee not to use the station or its facilities for the dissemination of willful or false information.”

Blanco was referring to the provision in Republic Act 11422, which granted a 25-year franchise renewal to SMNI, legally operating as Swara Sug Media Corporation of the Philippines. The congressional franchise was enacted in August 2019.

As an attached agency of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, NTC serves as the regulator and principal authority for telecommunication services in the country. Its mandate includes the regulation and supervision of radio and TV broadcast stations, cable television, and pay TV.

Meanwhile, KBP Vice President for Legal and Regulatory Compliance Group Rudolph Jularbal pointed out a possible violation by SMNI for allowing unaccredited announcers, such as Celiz and co-host Lorraine Badoy, to go on air.

While confirming SMNI’s KBP accreditation, Jularbal highlighted that Celiz and Badoy were not accredited as achors, contravening KBP rules.

Jularbal emphasized that KBP member networks mandate lectures on the code of ethics for anchors and reporters, along with an accreditation exam.

In response to the possibility of a KBP investigation, Jularbal stated, “Considering the information gathered during this hearing, your honors, I will report to the standards authority of KBP.”

When asked about whether SMNI adhered to the provisions of the KBP Code of Conduct after reviewing all the discussions, Jularbal replied: “Your Honor, we beg your indulgence, but in the context of what has been presented and of which I am informed this hearing, the network is lacking in observance of the Code of Conduct.”

Jularbal said the KBP is also currently investigating complaints against SMNI, specifically related to fake news and red-tagging.

Paranaque City 2nd District Rep. Gus Tambunting, the head of the House franchise panel, highlighted the significance of fair and accurate news reporting, referencing the Broadcaster’s Code of the Philippines as a guide for media practitioners.

He underscored that while free speech and press freedom are constitutional rights, the allocation of TV and radio frequencies is subject to the authority of Congress over legislative franchises.

“Let me emphasize that the mandate of the Committee on the Legislative Franchises is the granting, amendment, extension, or revocation of legislative franchises,” Tambunting pointed out.

“It is authorized to exercise its oversight function to determine whether or not the franchise grantees faithfully comply with the terms and conditions of its franchise,” he added.

Celiz later apologized to Speaker Romualdez and the House, expressing regret for any harm caused by their statements during the program, while Badoy affirmed that they are not involved in any smear campaign against Congress.

The committee will also tackle two resolutions from the Makabayan bloc regarding SMNI: one focusing on alleged fake news peddling and baseless red-tagging of individuals, groups and organizations; and the other on alleged fake news peddling, baseless red-tagging, and grave threats against ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro by former President Rodrigo Duterte and SMNI.