Lagman’s misleading and untenable defense of ABS-CBN directly contradicts the law

Lagman’s misleading and untenable defense of ABS-CBN directly contradicts the law

- in Opinion, Philippines
Image from the Filipino Times

Congressman Edcel Lagman has been a vocal supporter of ABS CBN, despite the grave allegations against the media outfit. His support however is based on his very flawed and misinformed belief that the media corporation, which has been granted exclusive franchise to broadcast without any challenge for 25 years, can directly influence the result of democratic elections.

According to Lagman’s interpretation, this falls under the “freedom of expression” of the press. But according to the actual law, this is expressly illegal and a gross violation of both the conditions of ABS CBN’s legislative franchise, RA 7966, and the Fair Elections Act, RA 9006.

Lagman’s ungrounded statement earlier this week not only misleads the public, but unjustly excuses ABS CBN from facing the consequences of their actions. Lagman doesn’t just say that ABS CBN deserves a pass, he’s saying that they didn’t do anything wrong and we shouldn’t even investigate.

But the word of the law, which as a legislator Lagman should be familiar with, directly contradicts his statements.

Section 4 of RA7966 (ABS-CBN Legislative Franchise) states:

“Section 4.    Responsibility to the Public. — The grantee shall provide adequate public service time to enable the government, through the said broadcasting stations, to reach the population on important public issues; provide at all times sound and balanced programming; promote public participation such as in community programming; assist in the functions of public information and education; conform to the ethics of honest enterprise; and not use its stations for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, act or scene, or for the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation to the detriment of the public interest, or to incite, encourage, or assist in subversive or treasonable acts.” (Emphasis supplied)

Lagman’s statement merely focused on the portion of the franchise which prohibited ABS CBN from broadcasting obscene or indecent speech or images, disseminating deliberately false information, and inciting subversive or treasonable acts. Unfortunately for Lagman, the law does not allow for the selective favor of certain articles. Everything in RA7966 must be abided by equally, including the clear rules that ABS CBN must follow:

The broadcasting firm absolutely must:

  • provide at all times sound and balanced programming
  • assist in the functions of public information and education
  • conform to the ethics of honest enterprise

And in what world would deliberately favoring one political party, candidate, or ideology be acceptable, given these stipulations? ABS CBN’s coverage of the 2010 and 2016 national elections was not dictated by their franchise law, it was dictated by the economic interests of the owners of the company.

By taking sides to favor a particular candidate or to deliberately work to diminish the popularity of another by intentionally altering broadcasts and allocating less time to them, ABS CBN arguably commited wilfull misrepresentations to the detriment of public interest. Who is to say that the voting Filipino public would have cast their ballots differently if they were provided fair and complete information from their media?

Further, Section 12 of RA7966 provides:

“Section 12.    General Broadcast Policy Law.— The grantee shall comply with a general broadcast policy law which Congress may hereafter enact.”

And one such law which was enacted later on to regulate broadcast policies was the Fair Elections Act. This law provides the following:

“Section 6. Equal Access to Media Time and Space. – All registered parties and bona fide candidates shall have equal access to media time and space. x x x

6.2. (a) Each bona fide candidate or registered political party for a nationally elective office shall be entitled to not more than one hundred twenty (120) minutes of television advertisement and one hundred eighty (180) minutes of radio advertisement whether by purchase or donation.

x x x

In all instances, the COMELEC shall supervise the use and employment of press, radio and television facilities insofar or the placement of political advertisements is concerned to ensure that candidates are given equal opportunities under equal circumstances to make known their qualifications and their stand on public issues within the limits set forth in the Omnibus Election Code and Republic Act No. 7166 on election spending.

The COMELEC shall ensure that radio or television or cable television broadcasting entities shall not allow the scheduling of any program or permit any sponsor to manifestly favor or oppose any candidate or political party by unduly or repeatedly referring to or including said candidate and/or political party in such program respecting, however, in all instances the right of said broadcast entities to air accounts of significant news or news worthy events and views on matters of public interest.

6.5. All members of media, television, radio or print, shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. They shall recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly. x x x” (Emphasis supplied)

And Section 13 of the same law clearly states that a “violation of this Act and the rules and regulations of the COMELEC issued to implement this Act shall be an election offense.

Lagman’s erroneous defense of ABS CBN is as vague as the broadcast giant’s own self defense. Both of them made vague claims about press freedom and accused the administration of persecuting them because they are critics.

But the crimes ABS CBN is accused of don’t start in 2016, they go back to 2010. President Duterte, then just a local executive of Davao City, was not even on the radar of ABS CBN and they were not on his. So why would the administration seek to punish them for 2010, when PNoy was elected President?

ABS CBN cannot defend their track record of abusing their broadcasting powers. Press freedom does not give the media the power to influence our free and democratic elections. The opinions of the shareholders and board members of ABS CBN should not triumph over any other on the station’s broadcasting. The company’s very license to operate is a privilege granted by the Philippine government which is based on the condition that they will use this privilege for the good of the Filipino people.

Lagman would do better to follow the advice of chamber leader Speaker of the House Alan Peter Cayetano before releasing any more incorrect information to the public.

“There are questions that have to be answered before we can decide if we are going to renew ABS-CBN’s 25-year Franchise,” Speaker Cayetano said this week through a statement on his Facebook Page.

“It is Congress’ sober duty to hear the issue with complete impartiality and fairness,” Speaker Cayetano continued.

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