SMNI flagged for allowing non-KBP accredited broadcasters to go on air

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
SMNI flagged for allowing non-KBP accredited broadcasters to go on air
Kuha kina dating NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lorraine Badoy (kaliwa) at Jeffrey “Ka Eric” Celiz (kanan)
Video grab mula sa Facebook page ng SMNI News

MANILA, Philippines — Television network Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) could face potential sanctions from the country’s independent broadcasting body for allowing unaccredited hosts not trained in responsible broadcasting to go on air.

A spokesperson of the Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) told House lawmakers on Thursday that SMNI failed to comply with a rule requiring all broadcasters of KBP member networks to undergo training on the KBP’s code of ethics.

This was after SMNI’s legal representatives bared that their program anchors Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy — two personalities who have repeatedly spouted disinformation against rights defenders, journalists, members of the judiciary and, most recently, House Speaker Martin Romualdez — were not KBP-accredited. 

Only the network of SMNI itself (formally the Swara Sug Media Corp.) is accredited with the KBP, lawyer Mark Tolentino told the House committee on legislative franchises.

KBP’s vice president for legal and regulatory compliance Lawyer Rudolph Jularbal said that SMNI “is lacking in observance of the code of conduct.”

“The violation is for allowing a non-accredited broadcaster to go on air. That’s the violation. The content is different,” Jularbal clarified.

These statements were made during the House legislative franchises panel’s inquiry into potential franchise violations by SMNI, whose television anchors have consistently been red-tagging and making unfounded allegations against human rights defenders and activists they perceive as sympathetic to rebel groups. 

Earlier this week, Celiz and Badoy, hosts of SMNI show "Laban Kasama ang Bayan,” alleged that Romualdez has P1.8 billion in travel funds – a claim immediately denied by House Secretary General Reginald Velasco.

While the hosts initially tried to defend themselves on their program the next day by saying that the allegation was stated in question format, Celiz on Thursday apologized to House lawmakers and admitted that his source was wrong. 

Celiz, however, maintained that what he and the former government anti-communist task force spokesperson did was to state the claim as a “commentary question." 

Some sources of disinformation, especially those that engage in influence operations, intentionally do not make outright false claims to spread a problematic narrative. Instead, some resort to making commentaries and questions but in a manner designed to sow confusion among the public, attack a personality or institution, or corrupt public discourse.

RELATED: What you need to know about influence operations  

During the hearing, Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan Partylist) asked Jularbal whether the KBP had any ethical standards guiding the broadcast of analyses and commentary.

Jularbal said: “Fairness is the key to such commentaries and analyses.”

Rundown of SMNI disinformation 

Lawyer Rico Domingo of the Movement Against Disinformation stressed during the hearing that there is a “litany of acts” that SMNI is “guilty of broadcasting on air.”

The media law professor also pointed out that despite some parties’ invocations of the freedom of speech of the SMNI hosts, their red-tagging and spread of false information are “unprotected speeches (that) cannot be countenanced.”

“In relation to the false imputations focused on the Speaker, what we are concerned about is the disinformation and red-tagging that SMNI has been welcoming in its broadcast,” Domingo said

In response, another lawyer for SMNI, Rolex Suplico, said Celiz and Badoy were mere talents of the network and do not have an “employee-employer” relationship with them.

"The grantee of the franchise, Swara Sug, cannot tell them what to say, what to ask, when to ask, how to ask, they enjoy a certain independence from us," Suplico said.

In October 2022, the Supreme Court issued a show cause order against Badoy for taking to social media to threaten and red-tag a regional trial court judge.

In May this year, the Commission on Human Rights called out the network’s hosts for their red-tagging of journalists affiliated with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

After that, Badoy and Celiz were slapped with a civil suit in July by the chairperson emeritus of the progressive group Bagong Anyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) for their "villification spree" against her on their show.

RELATED: SC issues show-cause order vs Badoy over posts on Manila judge | Philstar.com 

Domingo said: “There will be no stopping SMNI from spreading vicious lies.”

“Going back, it just targeted the fourth highest leader of the land. It already targeted the independence of the judiciary. What will stop smni from hitting the most senior government official? That's the imminent danger,” the media law professor added.

— with reports by Kristine Joy Patag

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