GMA Network seeks review of COMELEC Resolution No. 9615

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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