Gov’t should not meddle with news content of media firms unless there are grave violations of laws — Sotto

Published July 8, 2020, 1:09 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The government should not be meddling with the news and editorial contents of media companies unless they committed grave violations of laws, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

In an online interview, Sotto said government officials should “absolutely” not interfere with the coverages of news organizations, especially their editorials even if their opinions “could be wrong.”

“I have this mentality na hindi lang sa news organization hindi dapat nakikialam ang gobyerno (that the government should not meddle not only with the operations of news organizations). Government should be out of business. Government should not meddle with businesses,” he said during the virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.

“‘Pag may mga pagkakamali o may mga violations, okay, punahin mo, pero that’s different from pakikialam and pagme-meddle (If there are mistakes or violations, okay, criticize it, but that’s different from meddling),” he added.

Citing interparliamentary ethics, Sotto refused to specifically comment on the House of Representatives’ deliberation of the franchise application of ABS-CBN, whose broadcast operations were stopped after the expiry of its 25-year franchise last May 4.

He said the perceived bias of the broadcast network should not be made a reason to reject the grant or renewal of the congressional permit.

“No. [On the basis of] Bias lang (only)? Hindi siguro (Maybe not), unless there is a grave violation. We can recall the bill. All you have to do is repeal the bill, or the law, pagka merong violation against the government ang isang franchise holder (if the franchise holder committed a violation against the government),” he said.

He added that ABS-CBN’s alleged bias in its news coverage should not be tackled by the Senate when the franchise bill reaches them.

“In the Senate, hindi siguro (maybe we’ll not discuss it). I don’t know about the others but as far as I’m concerned, to me it’s not an issue. Kasi hindi mo naman maiiwasan na kung minsan, it’s not really the company, hindi naman ‘yong mga executives ang may kinalaman sa slant eh, kung minsan mga reporters eh (Because you cannot prevent that sometimes, it’s not really the company, or the executives having a hand over the slant of the news reports, sometimes it’s the reporters),” Sotto said.

“Hindi naman kasalanan ng network ‘yon (That’s not the network’s fault),” he added.

Sotto said while public officials cannot be prevented from being hurt by media reports, “If it’s true, you cannot be onion-skinned.”

Recalling his experience with “hurtful” and “very wrong” news coverages, he advised his fellow lawmakers to face and counter the news reports “head-on” especially if they are not true.

“Harapin nila (They should face it). Kung hindi naman totoo ang sinasabi, eh di lalabas at lalabas ang katotohanan (If the report was not true, the truth will just come out). The truth is very difficult to hide,” he said.

Echoing Sotto, Senator Nancy Binay said government officials could bring to proper authorities their grievances against media companies. She earlier said that lawmakers should set aside their personal issues with ABS-CBN and approve the network’s franchise for the public’s sake.

“Dapat matibay din ang dibdib mo pagdating sa ganitong pagpuna kasi bahagi ‘yan ng mundo ng isang pulitiko na talagang may babatikos at may hindi sasangayon sa kanya (You should be able to withstand criticisms because it’s part of being a politician, that there will always be someone who will criticize and will not agree with you),” Binay said in a separate online interview with reporters.

“May remedy nga, may mga pwedeng puntahan (There are remedies, there are proper avenues). Ang importnate at the end of the day alam mo ang katotohanan, alam mo kung anuman ang sinulat, alam mo na di totoo ‘yon (What’s important is that at the end of the day, you know the truth, you know that whatever was written, you know that it’s not true),” she added.

Several congressmen raised in the hearing their gripes against ABS-CBN news department’s editorial guidelines and alleged unfair reporting of national issues and events.

Despite the grievances by the lawmakers, officials of the Commission on Elections, Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, and the National Telecommunications Commission have said that there are no complaints of any wrongdoings against the network.

Members of the House Legislative Franchises Committee are set to decide on Thursday, July 9, the fate of the media giant.