• Saturday , 22 October 2016

(ELECTION) GMA Network seeks review of COMELEC Resolution No. 9615

Quezon City, Philippines – GMA Network, Inc. (“GMA” or “the Network”) expressed serious concerns and reservations on certain provisions of Resolution  No. 9615, (the Rules and Regulations Implementing Republic Act No. 9006  otherwise known as the ‘Fair Election Act’) (the “New Rules”), affecting the  broadcast industry.

In a letter dated January 23, 2013, GMA, through its Chairman and CEO  Atty. Felipe L. Gozon, Consultant to the Chairman and CEO Pacifico A. Agabin,  Vice President for Legal Affairs Atty. Ma. Luz P. Delfin, and Belo Gozon Elma  Parel Asuncion and Lucila Law Office urged the Honorable Commission to recall  and revisit said provisions based on certain procedural and substantive  concerns.

GMA raised its concern on the manner of passage of Resolution No.  9615 as COMELEC did not conduct any public hearing especially among those  affected by the resolution. GMA noted that the Omnibus Election Code of the  Philippines requires due notice to all interested parties as well as an  opportunity for the same to be heard.

Considering that substantive rights of various parties shall be  affected by the New Rules, GMA questioned the propriety of its promulgation  without public participation.

Under Resolution No. 9615, it appears that a candidate is only  allowed an aggregate total of 120 minutes of television advertising, whether  appearing on national, regional or local, free or cable television (regardless  of the source of content), and 180 minutes of radio advertising, whether airing  on national, regional, or local radio, regardless of the number of stations or  networks used.

This differs from the rules observed in the 2010 national elections  in which a candidate for a national elective position was allowed to use and  avail himself of 120 minutes of TV airtime and 180 minutes of radio airtime on a  per station basis.

Due to said change, GMA requested the COMELEC to clarify whether the  120 minutes granted to a candidate for a national position and the 60 minutes  for a local elective position for television already include all the available  minutes which he or she can use to broadcast political ads on all TV networks  and stations, including cable TV.


If the answer is in the affirmative, GMA said that broadcasting  entities would certainly encounter major difficulties primarily “in monitoring  the broadcasting minutes spent by numerous candidates for various elective  positions” broadcast in other TV and radio networks, “and therefore compliance  with the New Rules will be cruel and oppressive.” It should be noted that, under  the New Rules, the officers of the Network would be held criminally liable for  any violations of the candidates with respect to the allowed airtime limits.


The Network added that even if the candidates will be required to  submit their written certification of their broadcasting minutes, the  verification of the authenticity of the certifications would pose “burdensome,  oppressive, and unreasonable” demands given that GMA does not have the required  expertise to perform such, and would entail added and substantial costs to the  Network.


While it may have the available means and competence to monitor all  of the political advertisements aired on its TV and radio stations nationwide,  GMA pointed out that it “does not have the required capability (or even the  opportunity as those networks and entities may not allow access to their  facilities) to undertake an accurate monitoring and attain a reasonable degree  of certainty of a candidate’s (or all the candidates’) remaining quota of  broadcasting minutes.


The Network also argued that given the dynamic nature of the  broadcast industry, any breach of the allowed TV and radio minutes, which is  penalized as a criminal offense, would become a controversial issue among  broadcast networks and content providers for cable TV, and “spawn network  cross-accusations that violations did not occur in their own fence, but in the  others’.”


GMA added that the limited number of broadcast minutes brought about  by the New Rules would “unduly pull or gravitate” candidates to a few large  networks with high ratings to the detriment of the small ones. GMA further  stated that this media pull may still result in an increased cost for broadcast  services, rendering the “equal access to media time” rule in Sections 2 and 6 of  Republic Act No. 9006 meaningless as it puts candidates with low campaign  budgets at a disadvantage.


GMA thus urged that the same rule on the airtime allotment in the  2010 elections based on a per station basis be reinstated for purposes of the  2013 elections. Otherwise, GMA said that it “would find itself in a quandary or  worse, be indicted for an election offense.”


In addition, GMA expressed its confusion over the provisions that  required the prior approval of the COMELEC “for appearances or guestings by a  candidate on any bona fide newscast, news interview or news documentary even as  said guesting or appearance is deemed incidental and not considered as broadcast  election propaganda,” as stated in the New Rules. GMA thus puts in question as  to why it should be required to “afford other candidates equal opportunity to  promote their candidacy especially if their appearance is not really pertinent  to a news documentary or report being made.”


The Network further argued that this interference in the content of  news reporting would not only require added manpower and logistical resources,  but would likewise invite challenges on the right of free expression. In  relation to this, GMA submitted that it should be given leeway to determine on  its own which matters are considered newsworthy enough for broadcast considering  that it has 50 years of experience and expertise in the broadcast  industry.


Further, GMA said that while it understands that the COMELEC may  issue rules and regulations, the Network maintains that the company and its  officers should not be faulted and held criminally liable “for any breach of the  time limits provided under the New Rules.” GMA referred to it as “a marked  deviation” from the list of election offenses, which mostly include deliberate  acts undertaken by candidates and their representatives.

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