SMNI programs’ suspension not curtailing free speech - De Lima

SMNI programs’ suspension not curtailing free speech – De Lima

/ 08:45 PM December 20, 2023

The House committee on legislative franchises has adopted House Resolution (HR) No. 1499, which seeks to urge the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to suspend the operations of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI).


MANILA, Philippines — The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) decision to suspend two Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) programs is not an attempt to curtail free speech, as they were a reprimand for past incidents according to former senator Leila de Lima.

De Lima in a statement on Wednesday admitted that the suspension of SMNI programs ‘Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa’ and ‘Laban Kasama ang Bayan’ may look like prior restraint, as it seems to be a way to restrict program hosts from airing their views.


However, de Lima said that the suspension orders have merits, as these were imposed as a penalty for previous incidents where former president Rodrigo Duterte allegedly issued death threats, and self-proclaimed former rebel Jeffrey ‘Ka Eric’ Celiz shared false information.


“At 1st glance, the 14 day suspension meted out by the MTRCB on Duterte’s and (Lorraine) Badoy’s SMNI shows appears to be a case of unconstitutional prior restraint,” De Lima, a lawyer by profession, said.

“However, upon closer look, the suspension is action taken by the MTRCB on past, not future, speech made by Duterte threatening Congw[oman] France Castro with premeditated murder and SMNI host Celiz reporting malicious speculation on the cost of Speaker (Ferdinand Martin) Romualdez’s foreign travels in Badoy’s show,” she explained.

De Lima said that the government cannot turn a blind eye to such infractions because it would make it powerless in upholding the law.

“MTRCB’s suspension of Duterte’s and Badoy’s shows is not for future speech, but for PAST flagrant violations of journalistic and media standards, hence, not prior restraint. Government can’t be made powerless to penalize consummated violations in order to preclude recidivist and unapologetic repetition of illegal conduct on air,” she claimed.

“Otherwise, violations will just be committed again and again without any possibility for accountability of fake news peddlers like SMNI and its fake news shows,” she added.

On Tuesday, MTRCB announced the suspension of the two programs, including Gikan sa Masa which features Duterte, as the statements uttered during the shows have negatively impacted “public welfare, ethical considerations, and the overall reputation of the broadcasting industry”.


Duterte found himself in controversy anew after he made comments during one of Gikan sa Masa’s episodes last October, about the House’ decision to remove the confidential funds (CF) of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd).

OVP and DepEd, which requested a CF worth P500 million and P150 million, respectively, for 2024, are headed by his daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte.

READ: House gives zero confidential funds to OVP, DepEd, DICT, DFA, DA 

According to the older Duterte, he advised the Vice President to just be frank with Congress — particularly with Castro — that she needed the CF to stop the communist insurgency.

“I told Inday (Sara), be direct, tell them that the intelligence fund is meant to prepare the minds of the Filipinos, to address the insurgency that is taking a long time to end […] But your first target there, using your intelligence funds, is you, France, you communists who I want to kill.  I asked her to tell them that, but she refused,” the former president said.

Castro had already filed grave threats complaints against Duterte.

Meanwhile, SMNI was the subject of a congressional probe after Celiz, who co-hosts along with Badoy the Laban Kasama ang Bayan program, relayed on air that Romualdez supposedly spent P1.8 billion for travel expenses.

During the hearings of the House committee on legislative franchises, this claim was disputed by Secretary General Reginald Velasco who showed documents that the entire House only spent P39.60 million for foreign trips from January 2023 to October 2023.

READ: House to probe SMNI on claim Romualdez spent P1.8B on trips in 1 year 

Celiz apologized to Romualdez and the House, eventually admitting that the information from his source was wrong.

De Lima, a fierce critic of the Dutertes, questioned if SMNI should even be considered as a journalistic company or if its hosts are even actual journalists.

“SMNI is not ABS-CBN, GMA or TV5.  SMNI is a blatant propaganda media arm that pioneers on fake news dissemination. Prior restraint principles do not apply to these new ‘media’ establishments that are not bound by and do not observe broadcast journalism ethics and standards,” de Lima said.

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“As stated, even mainstream media do not consider SMNI personalities as journalists or broadcasters because they have no record or careers as being such. They are propagandists and PR people with no idea of and are not limited in their trade by the ethical standards of broadcast journalism,” she added.

TAGS: Leila de Lima, Lorraine Badoy, Rodrigo Duterte, SMNI

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