Editorial: Broadcasting in a crisis

·3 min read

WHY does Congress review and decide on applications seeking a frequency to broadcast through radio and television in the country?

“Broadcast frequencies constitute a scarce resource,” necessitating licensing by the State, according to the Media Ownership Monitor Philippines website of the Vera Files and the Reporters Without Borders (www.philippine.mom-rsf.org).

The broadcast spectrum available in the Philippines is limited and needs to be regulated by the State. “Without government control, the medium would be of little use because of the cacophony of competing voices, none of which could be clearly and predictably heard,” pointed out the same post in the website.

Congress recently ruled to turn down the application of the ABS-CBN Corp. for a franchise for another 25 years. Overruling 11 members of the House of Representatives who voted to approve the application were 70 colleagues who concurred with the recommendation made by the three-member Technical Working Group, chaired by Rep. Pablo John F. Garcia, with Rep. Xavier Jesus D. Romualdo and Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo as members.

Except for Quimbo who dissented, Congressmen Garcia and Romualdo recommended the adoption of the committee resolution denying the ABS-CBN franchise application. The decision of Congress to silence the broadcast network, which includes extensive regional radio and television stations, unsettles many citizens who have regularly tuned in to the network. Sympathies run deep for the estimated 11,000 employees who will be displaced when the regional stations cease to operate by end of August.

Loss of livelihood also confronts Filipino creatives and other workers dependent on the multiplier effects created by the media company in the economy.

But the foreboding deepens when citizens speculate on which entity will secure the legislative license to use the valuable frequency formerly allocated to ABS-CBN Corp.

When the ABS-CBN network was still operating, the Media Ownership Monitor Philippines website observed that, to illustrate how congested the airlanes are, the frequency in Metro Manila is “limited to 23 physical spots for TV channels, 32 spots for AM radio channels and 25 FM spots” — scarce resources that “are all taken at the moment.”

Ironically, it is the scarcity of broadcast frequencies that led to the creation of the National Telecommunication Commission’s (NTC) Radio Spectrum Planning Division, which is intended to come up with “long-term policies in planning, coordinating, regulating and administering the use of radio spectrum within the country.”

Will the NTC make crucial recommendations to legislators on the twin-franchising principle that makes broadcasting vulnerable to interests that view the radio spectrum as more than a scarce public resource prioritized for the public good?

As mandated by law, the twin-franchising principle involves the primary franchise given by Congress, followed by the NTC’s secondary franchise for operation, termed as the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPC).

However, the NTC cannot revoke issued CPCs. Thus, Congress, with the power of primary franchise, is the crux in deciding whether a company airs or not. How safe are national priorities in allocating frequencies in the radio spectrum from conflicts of interest in the Congress?

As the Media Ownership Monitor Philippines observes, except for a legal requirement to register with the Philippine Postal Corp. for mailing privileges, a print media company can practice journalism.

Yet, the numerous crises rocking this archipelago — from natural calamities to pandemics, coups, and other political upheavals — show how broadcasting companies deliver essential, almost instantaneous services to the public: to inform, connect, succor, educate, criticize and mobilize.

The July 10, 2020 ABS-CBN case will be a case not forgotten by the Filipino public nor by other broadcast entities renewing their franchises.