Castro says SMNI suspension not against press freedom as hosts spread fake news, hate
MANILA, Philippines — ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro maintained that the suspension of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) operations is not attack on press freedom, as the hosts allegedly spread fake news and hate speech.
Echoing the sentiments of many opposition figures and media practitioners, Castro said that hearings done by the House committee on legislative franchises showed that SMNI violated several provisions in their franchise — hence measures against it is needed.
As it is, the lawmaker claimed that it could be SMNI which is a threat to press freedom.
“As it stands now the SMNI issue is shaping out not to be a press freedom issue as its hosts and ‘talents’ want to project,” Castro said.
“With the recent hearings by the Committee on Legislative Franchise on SMNI, as well as some of the documents that we have seen, it seems that SMNI itself is a threat to press freedom with its advocacy of violence, disinformation (fake news) and intolerance (hate speech),” she added.
Earlier, the National Telecommunications Commission issued a 30-day suspension against SMNI’s operations — heeding the call of the House, which adopted PBA party-list Rep. Margarita Nograles’ resolution against SMNI.
Then on Wednesday, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) ordered the suspension of two SMNI programs — Gikan Sa Masa, Para sa Masa and Laban Kasama ang Bayan.
Gikan sa Masa was suspended after former president Rodrigo Duterte uttered statements during an October episode that had negatively impacted “public welfare, ethical considerations, and the overall reputation of the broadcasting industry”.
Laban Kasama ng Bayan meanwhile was shut down temporarily because self-proclaimed former rebel Jeffrey ‘Ka Eric’ Celiz stated wrong and misleading information about House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez’ travel expenses.
Also on Wednesday, key opposition figure, lawyer, and former senator Leila de Lima maintained that the MTRCB order does not curtail free speech.
De Lima explained that while the suspension of SMNI programs may look like prior restraint — as it seems to restrict program hosts from airing their views — these were actually imposed as a penalty for previous incidents.
Also, University of the Philippines – Diliman associate journalism professor Danilo Arao believes the grilling of SMNI officials and hosts during the House panel’s hearing are not a press freedom issue, as the network’s penchant for red-tagging had extended to some of its programs.
Castro also echoed Arao’s statements that the SMNI issue is different from ABS-CBN — whose franchise renewal was rejected by the House in the 18th Congress.
“Hindi ito tulad sa kaso ng ABS-CBN na sinadyang pinasara ng mga Duterte dahil sa pagbatikos sa kanila,” she said.
(This is not like the case of ABS-CBN which was forced to close by the Dutertes because of criticizing the administration.)
“We hope that the measures for accountability of SMNI, its hosts, executives and owners including Pastor Quiboloy himself will continue because they have abused the network as an anti-people tool and mouthpiece of the Dutertes and the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” she added.
Some lawmakers however defended SMNI after the NTCs’ suspension. Earlier, Senator Imee Marcos questioned why there is a need to stop SMNI’s operations, asking who is afraid of the network’s programs.
“Who’s afraid of SMNI? Which media entities will remain to uphold the freedom of the press, speech, and thought?” Marcos asked.