By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III eyes to speed up the approval in Senate of a bill providing lower rates for the advertisements of politicians in television, radio, and newspapers during elections.
This, after the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation conducted its hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill Nos. 307 and 1777 which both seek to amend the Republic Act No. 9006, or the Fair Elections Act.
Pimentel, committee chairman, is an author to the SB 1777.
“We need to fast track this because we want this to be applicable in the 2019 elections,” he told reporters.
Pimentel, on the other hand, clarified that he is not seeking the approval of the bill so that he can benefit when he runs for reelection in the May, 2019 midterm polls. This, according to him, had been the appeal of his fellow politicians since the 2016 national elections.
“This is a clamor from the candidates, clamor from parties. Since our colleagues assumed their posts after winning in the 2016 elections, they have been lamenting that political advertisements were so expensive. So there is really a clamor for us to revisit the rule or the law on the discount on political advertisement,” Pimentel explained.
SB 307, which Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri filed in 2016, seeks to require television, radio, and print media outlets to provide legitimate political partties and candidates a 50-percent discount for their ads during the campaign period. It also pushes a prohibition on media organizations from increasing their advertising rates one year before the campaign period.
Pimentel’s bill, meanwhile, wants political advertisements to be reduced by 50 percent for television, 30 percent for radio, and 20 percent for print, from the average rates charged to their regular advertisers.
“Political advertisements must be given some incentives, or benefits, or concessions by media when compared to commercial advertisements because the candidates are not selling products. They are supposed to explain their party program of government to the voters,” he said.
The Senate is also looking at granting 180 minutes of total radio exposure and 120 minutes total of television exposure per candidate.
In the hearing, officials of broadcast and print media organizations have expressed support for the measure, but took exception to the proposed provision of discounts.
Manila Bulletin External Affairs Chief and president of United Print Media Group Barbie Atienza said newspaper companies have agreed to level the playing field for all election candidates and placing a moratorium on price increases on advertising rates prior to the campaign period.
“We think also that outrageous rates for advertising would be detrimental to the less fortunate, less financially-endowed candidates,” he told the Senate panel.
Atienza, however, asked Congress to reconsider the discount rates. “It is something that we feel is detrimental to the status of the media organizations involved considering a lot of different changes to media and the cost of production,” he said, appealing to let the market dictate the prices instead.
The same sentiments were echoed by officials of television companies.
Manila Bulletin Executive Vice President Herminio “Sonny” Coloma, for his part, said that while print media is open to provide space for election candidates, limitations were provided in the RA 9006 and rules of the Commission of Elections.
“If it would be lifted, more space will be available,” he said.
Comelec spokesperson Director James Jimenez, meanwhile, suggested the regulation of online advertisement by candidates, citing “how effective” the 2016 campaigns in social media.
Pimentel, however, said they cannot yet include the proposal in the bill.
“How do you regulate online. Wala namang franchise ito sa gobyerno to operate. So doon tayo sa pwede nating disiplinahin,” he said.
“But if someone comes up with a good regulatory framework for online, we will entertain it. For now, we are not there yet,” he added.