THEORY: Transparency Provisions
Companies registered in the Philippines have to disclose their ownership structures to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), where that information can be purchased. All publicly listed companies are additionally required to publish ownership information, among other things a company profile, Board of Directors, organizational structure, shareholding structure as well as periodic reports and statements of beneficial ownership and the General Information Sheet. No similar rules have been imposed on non-publicly listed companies.
REALITY CHECK: How transparent are the Philippine media?
The Media Ownership Monitor analyzed publicly available data, both online and offline (SEC documents). In order to complete missing data, all media outlets and companies were contacted with a list of follow-up questions. The result for the 43 analyzed and contacted media outlets:
- For the majority – 27 - of the media outlets and related companies, ownership data was at least publicly available at the SEC. It was in some cases not updated annually.
- 11 media outlets were considered as passively transparent – which means representatives of their mother companies reacted to follow-up questions and were open to talk to the research team .
- Actively transparent were only media outlets that belong to stock-listed companies, which are legally obliged to inform proactively and comprehensively about its ownership on the website or in the newspaper. This concerned 8 of the outlets, amongst them ABS-CBN, GMA, Manila Bulletin Publishing and Manila Broadcasting Company.
- For one media outlet, data was unavailable – the companies neither responded, nor did a public record exist.
- No company actively disguised the ownership structure, e. g. through bogus companies.
BUT: A system of layering troubles transparency
The existing regulatory safeguards also can’t prevent the practice of layering company structures to obscure ultimate beneficial owners. Those complex structures are legal and can theoretically be delayered – which however requires insight and an immense investigative research. Roberto Tiglao for example spared no effort to shed light on Manuel V. Pangilinan’s empire and to trace it back to a foreign investor.
Also, companies have to disclose their ownership structure and financial data - but it is not itemized per media outlet.
INTRANSPARENT: State Advertising
Under the new Government Procurement Reform Act, procurement of all goods and services – including advertising space – should undergo public bidding. This aims at preventing that state advertising is distributed exclusively to a few media outlets but spent in public interest. This regulation is, however, hardly implemented. Government agencies are required to publish bids on their websites as well as in newspapers of general circulation – which is not done. The Commission of Audit (CoA) is obliged to disclose those bidding processes and how state funding is spent – which is also not done. There is no monitoring done to be able to detect and crackdown on violations.
Fact is, that governmental funding increased the authorized capital stock of the state-owned People’s Television Network from PhP1 billion to PhP6 billion and gave it the authority to collect commercial revenues (Republic Act 10390, March 2013). This shows a disproportionate distribution of state advertising (in terms of audience share) to the media, as the governmental channels reach less audience than other channels.
A STEP BACK: Reverse Search
A major step back is the abolition of the “reverse search” with the implementation of the Data Privacy Act. The reverse search allowed until recently searching media owners, meaning to get information on all shares they hold in other business. In August 2016, the SEC rejected VERA Files request for reverse research.