SHOULD WE STRIP THE POWER OF THE CONGRESS TO GRANT MEDIA FRANCHISES?

By Blaise Henry E. Ilan

February 21, 2020

Camarines Norte News 

 

Under our present laws, as mandated by the Republic Act 3846, all commercial broadcast stations must first secure a franchise from the Congress before it can apply for a permit given by the National Telecommunications Commission. This franchise should be enacted by the Congress just the way our laws are enacted and is subjected for the approval of the President. Aside from the redundant, expensive, and slow process of granting media franchises, this old law is very much prone to abuse and can be a threat in the exercise of our free and democratic press.

In a democratic society, one of the roles of the press is to act as the “watchdog” of the government. All of the actions of the government are subjected to public scrutiny. The public can scrutinize the actions of their government through the vigilant eyes of the media. This is the reason why the Philippine media is known for its adversarial nature, unlike our Southeast Asian neighbors such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore which features a more government friendly media. In China, North Korea, and some Middle Eastern nations, the media is under the full control of the government. In this case, the media serves as the propaganda arm of state leaders and is more loyal to the ruling party than to the people. The people should appreciate and realize that the freedom of the press is one of the pillars of the democracy. In the Philippines, the freedom of expression and of the press is enshrined and immortalized in the article 3, section 4 of the 1987 constitution.

In order to maintain the basic ideals of democracy, every citizen must uphold freedom of expression and of the press even though the media sometimes do not align with some or many of our views/opinions. Any move (either through a quo warranto petition or unreasonable franchise revocation) to suppress this freedom must be met with fierce opposition in a democratic society.

The thing is, the media should not be at the mercy of the Congress or the President in order to secure a franchise. How can the media fully perform its role as the watchdog if its very existence will be coming from seasonal politicians? The very logic of RA 3846 is to secure that the use of our “airwaves” are for public interest. The power of the public is manifested through their elected representatives, however, over the years, the Congress seems to had lost its independence and only act based upon their political and personal interests.

Now that the ABS-CBN (a critical media) is being near to the expiration of their franchise, we have seen how government officials are using every loopholes in the law to suppress a free and critical media. Just because the President has a vendetta to ABS-CBN, the heavily Duterte influenced Congress doesn’t give a damn and are using every excuse when it comes to renewing the ABS-CBN franchise. We all know that all of this drama by the Congress are all politically motivated. Worst, many of the elected representatives from the provinces are silent in the issue. Instead of raising the concerns on how their “kababayans” will be affected by the ABS-CBN closure, given the role the network is playing in providing relevant information, some representatives chose to follow the command of their true master, the President. We have elected representatives who are more loyal to the President than to their constituents. The Congress must do its job independently and properly and must prove to the nation that the RA 3846 will work towards public interest and must be free from any political interference.

One good suggestion on how our country should grant media franchises is to copy the system in the United States. In the U.S, media franchises were granted by the independent Federal Communications Commission. The process is very easy and can be done online. In this fast and easy system in the US, only 1% of permit issuances are delayed and only a small fraction of these percentage are denied. The public will be assured that the issuance of media franchises will be free from political persecution of the critical media and will work in line with the public interest.

These brings us to the question, is it time to strip the power of the Congress to grant media franchises? The answer will depend on the kind of Congress that we have. As long as the Congress will be the lap-dog/stamp pad of the administration, we can never be assured if they will work in line with the interest of the people and should not be entrusted in regulating one of the freest press in Asia.

 

“Mr. Blaise Henry E. Ilan is a baccalaureate degree holder in Broadcasting and is working as a Senior High School Teacher at Mabini Colleges in Daet, Camarines Norte. He is actively engaged in promoting Media and Information Literacy as a lifelong skill for students and is passionate in sharing his views about the pressing social issues of our time. He is currently working to earn his Masters degree in Communication at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.”