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Comelec to issue clarifications on shorter airtime resolution next week

The Commission on Elections is set to issue next week clarifications on its resolution on shorter airtime, right of reply and prior notice on interviewing candidates, which has been questioned by GMA Network Inc. and Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas. “Siguro next week, any time next week. Definitely there will be changes but I don’t think it will be major,” Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr said in an interview Thursday with reporters after the hearing on the motion for reconsideration filed by the petitioners at the Comelec Session Hall. The poll body will be having a special en banc session to Thursday afternoon discuss the arguments raised during the hearing. “We are going to discuss it now para habang fresh pa sa isip namin,” Brillantes said. Right of reply Brillantes said the commission might make some changes on the provision on candidates' right of reply, or even remove it. “Ang worry ko nga ngayon gusto na naming tanggalin yung provision, we will just use the law and the Constitution. Mas mahirap yun kasi we will now interpret it on a case to case basis. Wala kaming rules,” he said. He said under the rules stated in the contested Resolution 9615, they will not ask any network to grant right of reply unless there is a formal complaint filed before the Comelec. "Para bang sinasabi namin [with that provision] na wala kaming motu propio authority [to order a network to grant an aggrieved party a right of reply]. If we take that out, we will have the motu propio authority and we can exercise it anytime." During the hearing, Brillantes said that Comelec, in issuing Resolution 9615, was not going after the television and radio networks but the candidates. However, he also said that the poll body can recommend the cancellation of a network's franchise if the latter does not comply with the rules on right of reply. "We are not going after you, but if you defy our order you take a certain risk: we can recommend cancellation of franchise," Brillantes said. He said a candidate who wants to avail of right of reply must first submit to the Comelec a verified complaint or enumeration of facts. The Comelec will then review it and determine if it will require a network to reply. The complaint will be endorsed to the network which, in turn, will file an answer before the poll body. If the network's answer is sufficient, the Comelec will no longer require it to grant a candidate right of reply. But if the poll body finds a reason to compel the network to grant the candidate right of reply, it will issue an order for the network to do so. GMA Network counsel Roberto Rafael Lucila said the network has not experienced a problem with allowing candidates to respond to the statements of other candidates. “We have exercised our editorial prerogative wisely,” he said, adding that the network wants the poll body to respect its editorial prerogative on whether it will act on candidates' complaints or not. Total airtime for candidates On the aggregate airtime allowance, Brillantes said the candidates should be allowed to strategize their campaign based on the limited air time. Under the resolution, national candidates are allowed 120 minutes of total television airtime and 180 minutes of total radio airtime, while local candidates are given 60 minutes for television and 90 minutes for radio. During the 2010 elections, the airtime limit was per television or radio station. "The candidates will strategize their use of airtime. Why are we going to interfere with their strategy?" said Brillantes. Lucila raised the concern that the aggregate limited airtime is prejudiced against smaller networks as candidates would gravitate to the larger ones with wider audience reach. Brillantes believed otherwise. "In the local campaign, it will be the local media that will benefit. It will be foolish for a local candidate to go to GMA, use a national network, for his campaign," he said. Lucila said it will be difficult to monitor if a candidate has exceeded his airtime limit and the network could be held liable for it. Brillantes said the networks could include in their contract a waiver that the candidate that seeks to buy airtime has yet to exceed his limit. “Tulungan nyo kami. Require that in your contract so if there is misrepresentation, it is done by the candidate and not by the network,” he said. Lucila said there could be different interpretations of the airtime requirement as well, as the mere airing of a candidate's ad that exceeded his airtime limit could be blamed on the network. Because of this, the lawyer said the Comelec should include that explanation in the resolution instead of the contract. “Procedure should be spelled for the guidance of the networks,” he said. Lawyer Reji Jularbar, cousel for KBP, raised the question of how political advertisements would be counted if they are aired simultaneously on the provincial stations of a Manila-based network. Brillantes said it will be counted once if simultaneously aired on, for example, 72 stations. The additional count will be made if the same advertisement is replayed or repeated. From prior approval to prior notice On the issue of prior approval before featuring or interviewing a candidate, Brillantes said that they changed it to prior notice to allow the body to monitor the program or interview. Lucila said that there will still be difficulty in compliance, especially as ambush interviews happen. He added that news programs such as “State of the Nation” and “24 Oras” are dynamic, and that changes can happen minutes before they are aired. Brillantes replied a mere call to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez informing him of the interview would be enough. “So we can monitor if it is pure interview or if there is a political propaganda,” he said, adding that programs are usually scheduled days before it is aired. KBP president Herman Basbano expressed satisfaction with the way the hearing was conducted. “Hintayin na lang natin, we raised points that we’d like to present to them. Let’s hope for the best not [only] for the broadcast but for the public, of course,” he told reporters after the hearing. — BM, GMA News