KBP: SMNI anchors not accredited

December 1, 2023 People's Journal 216 views

THE Kapisanan ng Broadcaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) revealed that Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) has not subjected any of its anchor to seminar on responsible broadcasting, which is a requirement for accreditation of broadcast journalists.

KBP vice president for legal and Regulatory Compliance Group Rudolph Jularbal disclosed that SMNI violated the rule of KBP, which requires all broadcasters of its member-networks to undergo seminar on the Broadcast Code of the Philippines.

Jularbal made the disclosure in his testimony at the investigation being conducted by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, which commenced to inquire on the possible violations of the SMNI legislative franchise.

When asked by Antipolo City 2nd District Rep. Romeo Acop about whether SMNI followed the provisions of the KBP Code of Conduct after hearing 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.”

The House Committee on Legislative Franchises on Thursday launched its investigation into potential violations of the legislative franchise of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), whose some of its anchors have been accused of spreading fake news and engaging in red-tagging.

This move follows a privilege speech by House Deputy Majority Leader David Jay-Jay Suarez, addressing accusations from SMNI anchors Eric Celis and Lorraine Badoy, who claimed that Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez had incurred P1.8 billion in travel expenses—a claim debunked by records of the House of Representatives.

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

The franchise committee, chaired by Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting, is also tackling two resolutions from the Makabayan bloc regarding SMNI: one on alleged fake news peddling and baseless red-tagging of individuals, groups, and organizations and another on alleged fake news peddling, baseless red-tagging, and grave threats against ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro by former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and SMNI.

Tambunting, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of fair and accurate news reporting, citing the Broadcaster’s Code of the Philippines as a guideline for media practitioners.

He underscored that while free speech and freedom of the press 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.

House spends only P39.6 million for foreign travel, not P1.8 billion.

The House of Representatives has so far spent only P39.6 million for the foreign travel of its members and secretariat staff, not P1.8 billion as claimed by two broadcasters of radio-TV network Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI).

House Secretary General Reginald Velasco Thursday reported to the committee on legislative franchises that from January to October this year, P4.3 million was used by the “Office of the Speaker” for foreign travel.

“For congressmen and secretariat personnel on official trips, the House spent P35.3 million, or a combined total of P39.6 million,” he said.

He made the report in connection with the committee’s inquiry into what congressmen labeled as the “fake news and disinformation” about the P1.8 billion allegedly used by Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, who requested Velasco to render an accounting of travel funds, told SMNI officials that the P39.6 million disbursed for travel expenses not only of the Speaker but of House members and secretariat personnel as well “is way, way off the P1.8-billion travel expense allegation.”

Pimentel said Velasco’s report “proves that your accusation is baseless.”

The Mindanao lawmaker accused SMNI of launching a “smear campaign against the Speaker and the House.”

Quezon Rep. David Suarez, who delivered a privilege speech on Tuesday asking for the inquiry, challenged SMNI officials to give up the broadcasting privilege Congress granted the network identified with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy in 2019 during the Duterte administration.

“If you can prove your allegation to be true, I will resign as a member of Congress. If I can prove you wrong, you should put your legislative franchise on the line,” he said.

SMNI president Marlon Rosete and legal officer Mark Tolentino said they were not willing to risk their network’s broadcasting privilege.

“That means that your allegation or the claim of your program hosts that the Speaker alone incurred a P1.8-billion travel expense is a lie,” Suarez retorted.

Rosete, Tolentino, and another SMNI legal officer, former Iloilo congressman Rolex Suplico, told the legislative franchises committee chaired by Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting that the network could not control what its radio or TV program hosts would say or ask.

“They have some degree of independence,” they said.

They informed the committee that the network makes it straightforward to its broadcasters its waiver that their views do not represent SMNI stand or position on issues.

However, Rosete later admitted that they exercise a certain degree of editorial control over their broadcasters through meetings held once or twice a week in which content is discussed.

Tambunting, Suarez, and Pimentel said SMNI, or any other grantee of a broadcasting privilege, cannot invoke a waiver to evade responsibility and accountability for what its broadcasters, whether organic personnel or so-called block timers, say, ask or disseminate on its radio or TV station or media platform.

Tambunting and Pimentel called attention to Section 4 of the law, renewing for another 25 years the legislative franchise of Swara Sug Media Corp. of the Philippines, which Tolentino said is using several business names or trademarks that include SMNI.

They said the section mandates that the grantee shall not allow the use of any of its facilities “for the broadcasting of obscene or indecent language, speech, act, or scene; or for the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation, to the detriment of the public interest…”

“Under this provision, the grantee or the network is ultimately responsible for whatever its personnel, program hosts, block timers, or broadcasters say over the airwaves,” Tambunting told SMNI officials.

“If you hide behind your so-called waiver, this Section 4 will be useless, and we will not allow that,” he said.

Pimentel also invited the committee’s attention to the use by the franchise of the labels Shonshine Media Network International, Shonshine TV, and Sonshine Radio.

He said Swara Sug’s franchise prohibits it from assigning its broadcasting privilege or use to another entity.

He said Swara Sug is now known as Sonshine radio-tv network.

Tambunting said the committee would look into this issue as well.