Competition issues in PH broadcasting

Published January 29, 2022, 12:02 AM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


Dr. Florangel Rosario-Braid

The latest bombshell was the reported decision of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to award the TV frequencies, Channels 2 and 16,  previously held by ABS-CBN Corp. to a company of former Senator Manuel Villar.  Although not yet official, NTC already had sought the legal opinion of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Office of the President (OP), all three of which had given their consent. 

NTC Deputy Commissioner Cabarios defends the assignment aboveboard as “it’s first come, first served,” and if they are qualified, they are given the authority,” he said, adding that there was no law or rule that would prevent the granting of the frequencies. However, he admitted that there are other interested applicants who were not considered, it is within the mandate of the NTC to determine who is qualified, he added

To this argument, we say that in the interest of “balance,” “participation,” and “access,” concepts that define social justice and the common good in the Constitution, every government agency must take as its responsibility that of ensuring that every decision must or should enable wider public participation – in ownership as well as access to  public resources. 

And airwaves, the broadcast spectrum, belong to the people. 

It is with this understanding that we cite the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  which has more teeth than its counterpart in the country. In the granting of licenses, the FCC  encourages a wide range of entities to participate. It ensures compliance to the Communication  Act that authorizes FCC to award spectrum licenses to small businesses as well as ensure that the  relative  needs of communities through competitive bidding or auctions are met. 

One can participate in the application process by filing a petition to deny. 

By questioning the arguments of NTC I am not saying  that the frequencies should revert back to ABS-CBN. My position regarding the need to provide alternatives to the prevailing monopoly of media conglomerates had not changed. 

The new anti-trust body, created by the Fair Competition Act – the Philippine Competitive Commission (PCC) should likewise  be able to monitor, prevent, or otherwise break up media monopolies.

In a published report by OECD on a global forum on policy recommendations on competition issues in TV and Broadcasting (2013), the section on the Philippines noted: “As consumers, Filipinos are entitled to the best services. They must have access to better, reliable, and unbiased information on the basis of the ‘right to information’ by the people on matters of public concern, as enshrined in the Constitution.  There is need to revisit the existing laws and regulations and give the  regulatory body more effective power insofar as enforcing and implementing competition policy and law.” 

Hopefully, these background notes can help the Filipino electorate demand from the leaders they elect this May, that this concern becomes  a  part of their priority agenda. 

The issues of disinformation, media violence and their effect on governance can be traced to our benign neglect of some critical government policies. Many, including the NTC policies, are outdated, and while seemingly innocuous, are, in fact harmful in that they do not provide the needed policy environment that would allow our communication system to fully thrive,  serve, and protect the interests of our people. 

My email, [email protected]