HomeCommentaryBroadcasting networks can become narrowcasters

Broadcasting networks can become narrowcasters

Neophyte Rep. Margarita Nograles is battling giant Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI). She seeks suspension of SMNI, owned by the Kingdom of Jesus Christ sect. KJC’s “appointed son of god” is pastor Apollo Quiboloy, spiritual adviser of former president Rody Duterte.

Nograles hails from Davao City, the base as well of her Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party. Quiboloy resides in KJC’s huge compound there. Duterte was the city mayor, vice mayor, and congressman for 30 years. Some tattle that Nograles’ fight can be a political career-ender.

Others surmise the opposite – that Nograles’ crusade is for good vs evil. Quiboloy is wanted in America for conspiracy; sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion; sex trafficking of children; and bulk cash smuggling. Some lawmakers want him extradited.

Lawyer Nograles’ beef against SMNI is legal but implications go beyond. In the House franchises committee the other week she criticized the radio-tv-social media outfit for corporate breaches and news fakery.

Her list of allegations was long. Foremost was SMNI’s shift from “non-stock, non-profit” into a “corporation sole”, that is, an individual who represents a separate legal entity. The two-thirds majority vote of Quiboloy’s seven million-strong KJC supposedly was not secured.

Nograles also cried “fraud”. She noted that SMNI’s general information sheet given to the House panel was different from the one submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Nograles then enumerated franchise breaches. She urged the National Telecoms Commission to suspend the network’s operations during the investigation.

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Other congressmen grilled SMNI mainstays Lorraine Badoy-Partosa and Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz. The two repeatedly had broadcast that Speaker Martin Romualdez enjoyed a P1.8-billion travel expense account. But they recanted it at the House, admitting they had no solid proof.

Nograles reminded them of standard radio and TV franchises. All prohibit “broadcasting of obscene or indecent language, speech, act, or scene; or the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation, to the detriment of the public interest.”

All also enjoin networks to “provide at all times sound and balanced programming; promote public participation; assist in the functions of public information and education; conform to the ethics of honest enterprise; promote audience sensibility and empowerment including closed captioning.”

A series of complaints besets SMNI. On Aug. 12, 2022, a House resolution faulted its red-tagging and disinformation. On Nov. 6, 2023, another House resolution condemned Duterte for airing on SMNI grave threats against Rep. France Castro.

On Nov. 29, 2023, Rep. David Suarez in a privilege speech questioned the incredibility of Romualdez’s P1.8-billion travel expense.

At the franchise committee the next day, House Secretary General Reginald Velasco showed official records of only P4,347,712 in foreign travel by Romualdez. Whereupon, Badoy-Partosa and Celiz apologized. Nonetheless, the franchise committee adopted Nograles’ legal points. NTC was instructed to suspend SMNI.

Civil libertarians may cry for suppression of press freedom. However, analysts of Philippine journalism have a counterargument. Networks today no longer broadcast but narrowcast like in the olden days, the latter allege.

The first Philippine newspaper Del Superior Govierno (1811), published by the Spanish governor-general, and La Esperanza (1846) indulged the Spanish elite. Then came La Solidaridad (1889-1895) of Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, and Graciano Lopez Jaena, catering to Filipino mestizos who desired assimilation into Spain. The Katipunan’s Kalayaan (1898) was for revolucionarios.

Advertising then birthed broadcasting. Newspapers El Renacimiento/Muling Pagsilang (1901-1910), renamed La Vanguardia/Taliba (1910-1941) continued to advocate Philippine independence in editorials. But news reporting turned objective for a wider readership. On to the present.

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and TikTok came up with a new business model. Advertisers began to directly finance influencers. Narrowcasting re-emerged. Broadcast networks, although assigned limited frequencies, adopted the new social media technologies, and began to violate their franchises.

Nograles’ questioning of SMNI hits the nail on the head. Another election is coming up in 17 months. Politicos likely will use broadcast networks-cum-narrowcast social media for propaganda. Parties and candidates resort to disinformation.

Result: voters will be deeply divided. They will believe only conspiracies fed to them by preferred candidates and lies about the other side. Reporting will turn unfair and unaccountable. Unethical journalism will reign.

But reigning in narrowcasting “broadcasters” will enable a common set of facts and standards for argumentation. Can NTC ensure that? It should pick up the point from Nograles’ resolution.

Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS News.

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