How to get a media license

Setting up a broadcast business follows a twin-franchising principle: aspiring broadcast owners first have to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), like all private corporate entities, in order to begin its corporate existence and conduct business in the Philippines. The next step is to seek a legislative franchise from Congress, also called a primary franchise, with a term of 25 years, subject to renewal. Starting a new TV or media outlet then needs an authorization by the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) through a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPC) – a “secondary franchise”.

However, the NTC turns out to be rather powerless when it comes to revoking a license, which was illustrated in the Divinagracias Case. The Supreme Court inquired into the question if the NTC had the power to cancel operating licenses (secondary licenses) when Congress had issued franchises to operate broadcast stations. The Supreme Court negated. The NTC is not entitled to cancel the licenses or CPCs it has duly issued, even as the government office previously tasked with the regulation of radio stations possessed such power by express mandate of law. Instead, it would take another decision by Congress - or in other words a law – to stop concerned media outlets from operating.

Why is licensing necessary at all?

Licensing became necessary as broadcast frequencies constitute a scarce resource. Without government control, the medium would be of little use because of the cacophony of competing voices, none of which could be clearly and predictably heard. In Metro Manila for example, the frequency is limited to 23 physical spots for TV channels, 32 spots for AM radio channels, and 25 FM spots – and they are all taken at the moment. The same goes for the other metropolitan areas.

These scarce airtime resources were the reason why the NTC’s Radio Spectrum Planning Division was set up in order to provide long term policies in planning, coordinating, regulating and administering the use of radio spectrum within the country, and to sub-allocate radio frequency bands for various radio services in accordance with international regulations and national priorities.

Cable TV does not need a secondary franchise but an authorization by the NTC. Also, as the physical limitation does not exist for print and online media, they also don’t need that media-specific franchise to operate. However, a century-old law requires publishers, editors, managers, owners and stockholders of a newspaper to register with the Philippine Postal Corporation (formerly the Bureau of Posts) for them to avail themselves of mailing privileges.

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