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Opinion

‘Blocking’ & ‘forcing through’ combined

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Basketball enthusiasts will immediately react to my column title as impossible and cannot physically be done simultaneously. The problem is, today’s article has nothing to do with basketball or any contact sport. But I will try to show how the National Telecommunications Commission has achieved the impossible by issuing NTC Memorandum order no. 004-06-2022 addressed to “All authorized radio and television broadcast station/entities, on the subject: Block time agreements (Dated 23 June 2022).”

In the interest of the service and pursuant to the mandate of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to supervise and regulate, among others, radio and television broadcast stations and to establish and prescribe rules, regulations and standards specifications related to the same, as provided under Executive Order (EO) No.546, series of 1979, and other applicable laws, all holders/grantees of Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) and/or Provisional Authorities (PA) to install, operate and maintain radio and/or television broadcast stations are hereby directed to:

• Submit block time agreements for the Commission’s APPROVAL prior to the consummation of the implementation of such agreements. Block time agreements shall not be more than 50 percent of the daily airtime broadcast of the radio/television station.

• Authorized radio and television broadcast entities, its management and board of directors shall be solidary liable with the block timer for any violation committed by the block timer arising from the content or programs under the block time agreements.

• Comply with current and future rules and regulations covering block time and other related agreements.

For strict compliance – Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba

For starters, I referred to the basketball term of “blocking” because the timing of the NTC memorandum is suspiciously “coincidental” to the fact that there are on-going negotiations between at least two big media organizations for block time arrangements, where one company has so much content material and talents, but lost their traditional broadcast platforms, and the other company welcomes the opportunity to board content and talents in order to increase their stock and value as well as to provide jobs for talents and content creators. All this can be done by way of “block time” or buying airtime.

The on-going negotiations have been public knowledge and were presumed as the ultimate destination when a handful of programs and talents from Company A became block timers on Company B. If NTC Memorandum 04-06-2022 is imposed or enforced, it would effectively block and limit the terms and potential of a win-win solution for both companies and a positive spell for the industry. The restrictions and limitations of the NTC memorandum will inadvertently give undue favor or advantage to the dominant network in the industry, which has remained untouched and retains the largest stable of active talents and content.

There is nothing new with the practice of buying block time. Some of the late-night music and dance programs in the past were block timers, along with the many talk shows that featured my father Louie Beltran and the late Dong Puno and others. Block timers were welcomed back in the day because it relieved the TV station and management of operational responsibilities such as dealing with “talents” – talent fees, marketing and promotions and staffing. Everything that had to do with production and marketing was the responsibility of the block timer. The only thing the station had to do was to provide the airtime and broadcast the show or episode. As far as ethical or professional liabilities are concerned, the stations were generally absolved or exempted by opening and closing credits declaring: “The views and opinions expressed in the program do not represent the station and its management.” They were not jointly liable with the block timer, as the NTC is ordering, not proposing.

The “block timer industry” slowly disappeared because TV executives saw the commercial success of block timers. Network executives started lusting for the profit and influence and so they decided to strategically shrink the field by demanding unreasonable airtime fees. Those same executives are also directly responsible for undermining advertising agencies and talent agencies, ultimately leading to studio-produced content, talent management and advertising services.

If the NTC really wants to improve the state of broadcast in the Philippines, they should encourage more block timers, not limit them, in order for TV and radio to have a wider representation and selection of topics, views and personalities. Don’t issue a memorandum that prevents a practice that has served the industry and the nation well.

The NTC memo did not cite any cause or justification for imposing restrictions on block timers. As a result, those who have picked up or read about the NTC memo are convinced that Memo 04-06-2022 is intended as another nail to keep the coffin of ABS-CBN shut and to stop the migration of talents and content to TV5 via block time.

As far as the term “forcing through” is concerned, the NTC errs in the assumption that because they are the regulatory body for telecoms and television, they can meddle or interfere in the business or negotiations of private companies. They should first go through the KBP, the self-regulatory body over the broadcast industry as provided by presidential decree.

The NTC memorandum is called an “over-reach” by lawyers now studying the issue; I call it forcing through! Government can impose standards for the purpose of safety, security and equity. But the NTC is not a landlord or legislator and should not interfere in contractual and legal obligations of parties entering into a business agreement. They have no business declaring legal liabilities unless directly provided for by law.

If the practice of allowing block timers has long been allowed, what then is the legal basis or law that limits how much airtime can be leased to a block timer? Without presenting cause and legal basis, the NTC Memorandum 04-06-2022 borders on grave abuse of authority.

BASKETBALL

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