ABS-CBN: Sorry for offending the President

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    TELEVISION network ABS-CBN Corporation yesterday issued an apology for not airing President Duterte’s political advertisement during the final stretch of the presidential campaign in 2016 and for the late refund of the money.

    Carlo L. Katigbak, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer, said it was not intention of the network not to air Duterte’s ads. He said the network has a “first come, first served” policy, and the former Davao City mayor’s ads cam late.

    Katigbak explained that Duterte placed some P235 million worth of political ads — P170 million for national exposure and P65 million for local broadcast.

    He said the network’s policy in airtime allocation for national political ads was 19 minutes per hour, and two minutes per hour for local ads.

    Katigbak said all of Duterte’s national political ads were aired, but not all the local ads.

    “In the case of the President, he placed an order worth of P65 million spot (for local broadcast) of which we failed to air P7 million worth. Our policy for all our ads is first come, first served and many spots were ordered, many ads came in ahead,” Katigbak told the Senate public service committee which is opened its hearing on the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise.

    For failing to air the P7 million worth of local ads, Katigbak said the network initially returned P4 million. The balance of P2.6 million, he said, was not immediately refunded. He said the company tried to return the P2.6 million later but Duterte no longer wanted to accept it.

    “In this issue, we acknowledge our shortcoming, for failure to release and refund in a timely manner. We corrected that so in our policy, if your ad was not aired, the check should be back with the client within seven days. So, we acknowledge our shortcoming doon sa refund,” Katigbak said.

    Sen. Christopher Go, in an opening statement during the hearing, said the President was very offended with the way ABS-CBN treated him over other candidates.

    Go said the non-airing of the ads was intentional, and was meant to make way for an ad which was funded by then Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Duterte’s critic.

    Trillanes’ ad showed children reacting to some of Duterte’s controversial remarks and acts, including his cursing of Pope Francis and his comment about the rape-slay of an Australian missionary.

    Go said: “Paano ito naging political ad? Are you promoting a candidate here or are you destroying a candidate?… ano ba priority ng network? Kumita ang network through airing of political ads? But in this case, airing the black propaganda video appeared to be more important that earning income from airing legitimate ads that have already been paid for (How did this become a political ad? Are you promoting a candidate here or are you destroying a candidate?… what is the network’s priority, to earn by airing a political ad?

    But in this case, airing the black propaganda video appeared to be more important that earning income from airing legitimate ads that have already been paid for),” Go said.

    IMPROPER PRACTICES

    Go said the grievance of the President is not against the network itself, but its alleged practices “that appear to be improper and done with ill-intent.”

    He said the President was hurt as he felt the network was rude to him. The President is not “vindictive” but it is clear that someone went overboard in trying to malign him, Go also said.

    Katigbak explained that Trillanes had a first version of the ads which the network rejected because it was against the Fair Elections Act. He said Trillanes came up with a second version which was okayed by the network’s officials.

    He said that in the first version, the impression was “children were performing inappropriate behavior.” The revised version, which Go played during the hearing, showed the children merely asking questions.

    “We felt this did not violate any of our internal policy. The third reason why our ethics committee decided to air the ad because we are not required to discriminate against any candidate,” Katigbak said.

    “We were sorry if we offended the President. It is not the intention of the network, we felt we were just abiding by the laws and regulations that surround the airing of political ads and we would like to make a categorical statement, together with chairman Mark Lopez, that ABS will not and does not have a political agenda,” Katigbak said.

    Go said he would convince the President to change his mind for the sake of the thousands of employees who may lose their jobs if the network shuts down.

    “Fair reporting, that is all the President wants. Ano lang ang totoo, nothing more, nothing less (Report what is true, nothing more, nothing less),” he said.

    MAY 4 EXPIRATION

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra proposed that Congress come up with a resolution which will allow the network to operate pending approval of its franchise renewal.
    Guevarra also clarified that ABS-CBN’s franchise will expire on May 4, not on March 31.

    “It is respectfully submitted that Congress, by a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) to issue a provisional authority, subject to terms and conditions as the NTC may deem fit, to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to Congress’ eventual disposition of their renewal of the application,” Guevarra said.

    NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said the terms and conditions could be placed in the joint congressional resolution.

    “Pero based on equity, puwede naman daw, kaya lang, to put more legal basis and more legal muscle to that action, mas maganda kung merong concurrent resolution ang Senate at House of Representatives (But based on equity, the network can still operate beyond the expiration of its franchise, but to put more legal basis or more muscle to that action, it is better if there is a concurrent resolution from the Senate and the House of Representatives),” Cordoba said.

    Guevarra said considerations of equity have been applied to previous similar cases as those concerned were allowed to operate despite expired franchises as long as applications for the renewal of their franchises have been filed before Congress before the lapse of their term.

    VIOLATIONS

    Sen. Grace Poe, Senate public services committee chair, said it became clear in the hearing that violations would not mean automatic franchise revocation. She said the violator if oftentimes just penalized.

    Solicitor General Jose Calida has a pending quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, asking it to revoke ABS-CBN’s franchise for alleged violations.

    Poe instructed the NTC to submit to her committee clear guidelines on the issuance of temporary permits while the franchise of a network is still pending; a breakdown of the number of employees of ABS-CBN; a position paper from the Philippine Competition Commission; and, the possible economic impact of a closure of the network, including the total amount of taxes the government stands to lose.

    Poe said she will schedule another hearing. The date yet to be announced.

    PRIOR RESTRAINT

    ABS-CBN said Calida’s petition for the issuance of a gag order is a form of prior restraint that violates the freedom of the press.

    In a comment filed with the Supreme Court, it said none of the instances that would have made prior restraint permissible is present in the case.

    These instances are false or misleading advertisement, pornography, advocacy of imminent lawless action, and danger to national security.

    The network said nothing it has done would fall under those circumstances.

    “None of which are present in our reports which consists only of official statements, news reports about the petition, possible consequences and commentaries and opinions from stakeholders, public personalities and resource persons,” it said.

    Calida is accusing the network of engaging in propaganda with its programs and commentaries on the quo warranto petition seeking to revoke its legislative franchise.

    Calida said this violates the sub judice rule which prohibits parties to a case from publicly commenting on the merits of the case to prevent prejudgment. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero