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GMA Network pleads vs new Comelec rules on airtime for candidates

GMA Network Inc. has appealed against the shorter airtime allowed for candidates by the Commission on Elections in the run-up to the 2013 elections, but the poll body has insisted that the airtime limit will be enough for promoting candidacies. For the first time, Comelec will impose an aggregate airtime allowance instead of on a per station basis – meaning the amount of airtime will apply “whether appearing on national, regional, or local, free or cable television.” Under Resolution No. 9615, national candidates are now allowed 120 minutes of total television airtime and 180 minutes of total radio airtime, while local bets are given 60 minutes for television and 90 minutes for radio. During the 2010 elections, national candidates were allowed 120 minutes' airtime per station. In a letter-motion for reconsideration filed by Atty. Pierre Cantara of the Belo Gozon Elma Parel Asuncion and Lucila Law Office on Wednesday, GMA Network said the limited airtime is “cruel and oppressive” in terms of monitoring and verifying broadcast logs. Monitoring difficulties “GMA submits that broadcasting entities would surely encounter insurmountable difficulties in monitoring the broadcasting minutes spent by the numerous candidates for various elective positions, and therefore compliance with the New Rules will be cruel and oppressive,” according to the letter signed by GMA Network Chairman and CEO Felipe L. Gozon. In the letter, GMA asked that the 120-minutes-per-station allowance be reinstated, saying that it would be a "gargantuan task," if not impossible, for one station to determine if a candidate has reached his airtime limit as there would be no opportunity to confirm the airtime he has used up with other stations. GMA Network added that they might be in danger of committing an election offense for failing to monitor and verify broadcast logs. “Given that broadcast is a very fluid and fast medium… any breach of the prescribed TV and radio minutes, which is penalized as an election offense, would become a contentious issue among the broadcast networks…” GMA Network said. Right of reply The network also linked the shorter allotted airtime to the Comelec's Right of Reply rule, as candidates are likely to "hurl various charges and accusations against each other" and insist on the provision to reply to their opponents. GMA asked that it be given leeway by the commission to determine on its own which matters are newsworthy. "Dapat maliwanagan ang mga issues na ito bago papasok sa campaign period," said GMA legal consultant Pacifico Agabin in a report on GMA's 24 Oras. "Otherwise, papasok tayo sa campaign period na hindi natin alam kung anong gagawin natin at hindi natin maintindihan kung bakit sumobra itong rules na pinalabas ng Comelec." Comelec leeway In one concession, Comelec has said that it was no longer necessary to obtain permission from the poll body before a candidate is given airtime; it was only required that Comelec be notified of it. For his part, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he does not understand why GMA would be an affected party in the case. “In the sense that they’re going to be violations committed by the network. Pero in so far as the [air] time, hindi ko alam. I think more concerned should be the candidates,” Brillantes said. He added that they do not intend to change their resolution, adding that the prescribed airtime should be enough for promoting candidacies. “We don’t really have any intention to changing the [resolution]. I think our own consensus in our own survey says, okay lang, tama na ‘yung 120 minutes, 180 minutes. It’s too much,” Brillantes said, referring to an informal survey among election bets on the limited airtime. The poll chief added that they would consider the business aspect of their resolution, since the election campaign period generally boosts the earnings of media networks through paid campaign gimmicks of politicians. Brillantes opined that media entities should make a sacrifice for the 2013 elections. "I think everybody needs to be reasonable. ‘Yung business aspect, everybody should sacrifice,” he said. The Comelec will monitor campaign expenses and contributions of candidates only during the campaign period. Premature campaigning will not be accounted for in the total expenditures. According to Comelec Resolution No. 9476, presidential and vice presidential candidates are required to spend P10 for every registered voter; candidates with political parties to spend P3 each voter; and independent candidates with P5 per voter. The campaign period for national candidates will start from February 12 to May 11, while for local bets from March 30 to May 11. — BM/ELR, GMA News