Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a fierce defender of the ABS-CBN bid for legislative franchise, on Friday batted for the repeal of the Radio Control Act of 1931, the law he blamed as the culprit for the denial of the network’s franchise application.
In a press statement, Lagman underscored the urgency of revoking the 89-year-old law by pointing out the need to “insulate press freedom from partisan politics.”
Lagman said the move will also put an end to the “arbitrary denial” by legislators of the grant and renewal of legislative franchises to mass media firms.
According to him, the 1987 Constitution does not require the mass media corporations to secure legislative franchises although this claim has been contested numerous times during the ABS-CBN hearings conducted by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.
He said the law provides that radio stations, now including television stations, must secure from the Congress a prior legislative franchise in order to operate.
“While the 1987 Constitution does not require mass media enterprises to secure such franchise, the Radio Control Act imposes the requirement,” the veteran lawmaker stated.
He described last week’s House decision to thumbed down 11 bills proposing to grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise as both ”controversial and arbitrary.”
On Friday, the legislative franchise panel voted 70 for and 11 against to deny ABS-CBN its franchise application.
During the congressional hearings conducted jointly by the legislative franchise panel and the Committee on Good Government, Lagman assailed the various accusations against ABS CBN that opppositors cited as reasons for rejecting the franchise application.
“The authority to grant certificates of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) to mass media enterprises, without the need for a prior legislative franchise, must be maintained with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) under regulatory parameters which would ensure protection to press freedom,” Lagman explained.
He pointed out that the NTC has developed “adequate expertise in fairly regulating telecommunications and broadcast operations even as any possible abuse of discretion on its part would be readily subject to judicial review unlike acts of the Congress which are difficult to annul.”
“Mass media corporations are not within the ambit of Section 11 of Article XII because this provision covers public utilities at least 60% of whose capital is owned by Filipinos,” said Lagman.
According to Lagman, there remains no law or jurisprudence that “categorically classifies television and radio networks as public utilities” that provide services in exchange of compensation.
He said mass media services are “essentially free to the viewing public and subsidized by advertisements.”