Lagman: Repeal law requiring mass media to secure franchise from Congress

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In order to insulate press freedom from partisan politics and foreclose any arbitrary denial by legislators of the grant and renewal of legislative franchises to mass media corporations, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Monday urged Congress to repeal the Radio Control Act of 1931.

The 89-year old law provides that radio stations, now including television stations, must secure from the Congress a prior legislative franchise in order to operate, he said.

While the 1987 Constitution does not require mass media enterprises to secure such franchise, the Radio Control Act imposes the requirement, Lagman said.

He said the recent controversial and arbitrary rejection of ABS-CBN’s bid for a franchise renewal “justifies the repeal of the anachronistic Radio Control Act.”

But the authority to grant certificates of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) to mass media enterprises, without the need for a prior legislative franchise, must be maintained with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) under regulatory parameters which would ensure protection to press freedom, Lagman said.

“The NTC has developed adequate expertise in fairly regulating telecommunications and broadcast operations even as any possible abuse of discretion on its part would be readily subject to judicial review unlike acts of the Congress which are difficult to annul,” he added.

“Mass media corporations are not within the ambit of Section 11 of Article XII because this provision covers public utilities at least 60 percent of whose capital is owned by Filipinos,” Lagman said.

He added: “Mass media are not public utilities and are 100 percent Filipino owned and managed.”

“There is no law or jurisprudence which categorically classifies television and radio networks as public utilities considering that the services of the latter, by nature, are for hire or compensation unlike mass media whose broadcasts are essentially free to the viewing public and subsidized by advertisements,” he said.