Historically, the Philippines is known for its freewheeling press in a region where governments continue to repress political opinion. Its 1987 Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of expression through provisions drawn from the American constitution and jurisprudence, tempered with experience under martial law. Philippine laws since then have dealt with mass media as either print news media, or broadcast news, e.g. radio and television.
The government is yet to pass a Freedom of Information Act in order to establish the right to information as a corollary to the right to free expression. Philippine Congress is currently hearing various proposals for such an Act. Meanwhile, President Duterte has also issued Executive Order No. 2, Series of 2016 providing for access to information within the Executive Branch. However, it has been criticized for having also set a long list of exceptions that threaten to undermine its usefulness as an instrument of government transparency.
Ownership and Investment Regulations: an isolated market?
From the early days, ownership and management of mass media was limited to Philippine citizens, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by them. While this aimed at protecting the market, the relevance of this regulation is discussed today. Also as its implementation obviously lacks – considering that for example Manuel V Pangilinan’s media and telecommunication can be traced back to Indonesia.
Modern technology such as online news media and cable news media challenged the old definitions of media – and eventually were defined as telecommunication infrastructure. Unlike mass media or advertising, the telecommunications industry falls under the public utility regulatory regime. The foreign investment regulation does not apply: the operation of a public utility only need be owned by Filipino citizens to 60%, leaving 40% to foreign equity.
The Telecommunications Policy Act (1995) presents an early precedent of a cross-media regulation: accordingly, a single entity cannot engage in both telecommunications and broadcasting under a single franchise. This, however, does not prohibit an owner from getting a telecommunications franchise separately from a broadcasting franchise.
Media regulation bodies
An independent media regulation body does not exist. However, there are several governmental bodies involved in the process of setting legal conditions for the establishment and operation of a media outlet. Setting up a broadcast business follows a “twin franchising” principle: it first requires registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in order to get a legislative franchise through congress (obligatory for all private corporate entities) with a second authorization by the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) in form of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – sometimes called a “secondary franchise”.
There is no specific government body dedicated to monitoring media concentration. But the new anti-trust body established under the Fair Competition Act – the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) - should serve to monitor, prevent or otherwise breakup media monopolies. The Congress shall regulate or prohibit monopolies in commercial mass media when the public interest so requires. No combinations in restraint of trade or unfair competition therein shall be allowed.
Media Ownership Monitor Legal Assessment (2016), Romel R. Bagares
Executive Order 205. Regulating the operation of CATV systems in the Philippines, and other purposes (1987)
Republic Act no. 7925. Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines (1994), Congress of the Philippines
EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 02: Freedom of Information (2016)