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KBP hits NTC restrictions on block time agreements

Rainier Allan Ronda - The Philippine Star
KBP hits NTC restrictions on block time agreements
Rudolph Steve Jularbal, spokesman for the KBP, said the NTC is supposed to regulate only the technical aspects and not the commercial much more the content side of broadcasting.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is overstepping its mandate to oversee the technical aspects of broadcasting when it issued a memorandum circular that imposes a requirement for broadcasters to get approval of their block time broadcasts and a 50 percent limit on block time arrangements of broadcasters, according to the general counsel of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP).

Rudolph Steve Jularbal, spokesman for the KBP, said the NTC is supposed to regulate only the technical aspects and not the commercial – much more the content side – of broadcasting.

At a virtual interview last Tuesday night on “The Chiefs” aired on One News, Jularbal said the KBP was caught by surprise by the NTC’s sudden issuance of Memorandum Order 004-06-2022 that asked radio and television broadcasting firms to submit their block time agreements with content producers and providers for approval.

“This memorandum circular comes as a surprise. There has never been an NTC rule or government rule regarding block time,” Jularbal told “The Chiefs.”

“It’s outside of their mandate because theirs is the technical aspect of the operation – the frequencies, the power, the requirement for engineers, etc. – that’s the technical aspect of operation, and that’s where their mandate comes in,” he added.

The NTC’s surprise move is not a good start for the incoming administration of president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., according to the KBP’s legal counsel.

“I don’t like to speculate on the motivations behind it, but definitely, it’s not a good start for this new administration to come out with something like this right before inauguration because this constitutes prior restraint and (a form) of clamping on the media,” he said.

He stressed that the NTC has no jurisdiction over content of a broadcast station.

There is Supreme Court (SC) jurisprudence that states that the NTC’s jurisdiction lies only on the technical regulation of broadcast firms’ operations, according to Jularbal.

“The NTC has nothing to do with content as far as broadcasting is concerned,” he said of the SC’s Divinagracia case decision in 2009.

In that decision, the SC said even under existing laws, the NTC’s power to issue certificates of public convenience (CPCs) to broadcast stations did not expressly carry with it the power to cancel such CPCs.

The matter was brought up to the high court by a certain Santiago Divinagracia, who alleged that Consolidated Broadcasting System Inc. (CBS) and People’s Broadcasting Service Inc. (PBS), two of three radio networks that comprise Bombo Radyo Philippines, violated the terms of their congressional franchises when they failed to offer at least 30 percent of their common stocks to the public as required by law and their legislative franchises.

In the ruling, the SC said the NTC is incapacitated to frustrate broadcast franchise’s CPC for reasons other than the orderly administration of the frequencies in the radio spectrum. Thus, the NTC cannot – without clear and proper delegation by Congress – prevent the exercise of a legislative franchise by withholding or canceling the licenses of the franchisee.

“The KBP intends to take this to court if it needs to, to question the legality or the constitutionality of it. Because as far as the KBP is concerned, it smacks of prior restraint,” Jularbal said.

He explained that block time arrangements have been a “historical” practice in the local, if not global, broadcasting industry.

For the KBP’s general counsel, the NTC’s memorandum circular will affect most of the broadcast sector as most resort to the practice to relieve them of the high costs of producing content.

“In some countries, third-party content providers is mandatory to prevent the control of the media, to prevent the network owner from controlling 100 percent of the airtime, so they are mandated to get content from third parties,” he said.

He explained that even without the enforcement of something like a mandated third-party content provision, however, it is the prerogative of the network owner to produce the content himself or to get parties to produce it.

“What is important is that (owners) have control of the operation and management of the station,” Jularbal said.

“A blocktime arrangement is a business arrangement, and the NTC has nothing to do with a business arrangement, except when it comes in the form of passing on the ownership and control of a franchise or the station,” he added.

NTC

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