SMNI fights suspension, hits NTC ‘abuse of power’ | Inquirer News

SMNI fights suspension, hits NTC ‘abuse of power’

/ 05:52 AM December 29, 2023

SMNI logo over blurred photo of studio video cam

SMNI’s 30-day suspension by the National Telecommunications Commission is “patently unconstitutional,” according to lawyer Salvador Panelo. (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

MANILA, Philippines — Pushing back against the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) asked the Court of Appeals to stop the regulator from imposing its 30-day suspension order on the broadcaster.

In a petition for a temporary restraining order on the NTC on Thursday, former lawmaker and SMNI counsel Rolex Suplico said the agency violated due process and freedom of speech.


“The suspension order is immediately executory, that is why we are asking the Court of Appeals to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the show cause order and also the suspension order,” Suplico told reporters.


House move as basis

On Dec. 19, the same day it gave the network — the principal media platform used by evangelist Apollo Quiboloy — 15 days to reply to its show cause order or to explain why it should not be suspended, the NTC imposed the suspension. It scheduled a hearing on the suspension on Jan. 4.

“So, in this case, this is a grave violation of the Constitution. They are abusing their powers,” Suplico said.

The NTC’s decision cited Resolution No. 189 of the House of Representatives, which said that the network violated the terms of its franchise and urged the commission to suspend network owner Swara Sug Media Corp.

The resolution accused SMNI of violating Republic Act No. 11422, the 2019 law that extended its franchise for another 25 years, by allegedly spreading disinformation in its shows.

Last month, Rep. David Suarez of the second district of Quezon province called out SMNI’s evening show of anticommunist propagandists Lorraine Badoy Partosa and Jeffrey Celiz for claiming that Speaker Martin Romualdez spent P1.8 billion in his international travels. Celiz said the information came from a “Congress source.”

‘Fake news’

Suarez strongly denied the report and called it “fake news.” This prompted the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to open a hearing on the two SMNI television hosts’ allegations.


According to the House, only P39.6 million has been spent for international travel expenses by the entire chamber.

The House committee ordered Celiz and Partosa detained for a week after they were declared in contempt— Celiz for refusing to reveal his source on Romualdez’s alleged P1.8-billion travel expense and Partosa for her supposed conflicting statements about the show’s revenue sources.

According to the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, SMNI violated several sections of RA 11422.

These allegedly included the “deliberate dissemination of false information or willful misrepresentation to the detriment of public interest.”

MTRCB sanctions

On Dec. 18, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) ordered the 14-day suspension of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s show “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” (From the masses, for the masses) and the “Laban Kasama ang Bayan” program hosted by Partosa and Celiz.

The MTRCB said its order followed a “thorough review and investigation” of alleged false reports spread by the two shows.

Separation of powers

Suplico said that by acting on the House resolution, the NTC violated the separation of powers since the agency is a quasi-judicial body that can investigate and decide cases defined by its jurisdiction.

“Quasi-judicial function is part of the executive department. The House of Representatives’ influence through the NTC is in violation of our Constitution, especially the separation of powers,” Suplico said.

“The NTC is part of the executive department. It shouldn’t be dictated by the House of Representatives, the legislative body of the government.”

SMNI had earlier earned the ire of politicians and other public personalities. SMNI has been controversial for Red-tagging opposition government officials, journalists, activists, and their groups.

‘Most corrupt’

Duterte, in his television program in October, called the House “the most corrupt institution” after lawmakers removed the P650 million proposed confidential funds for his daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte.

Charges of grave threats had also been filed against Duterte for saying in one of his shows in October that ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro should be among the communists who should be killed.

Early this month, 1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez filed House Bill No. 9710 which seeks to revoke SMNI’s franchise for several violations such as the network’s alleged disinformation.

According to Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting, chair of the House franchises committee, the deliberations on the bill will start in January 2024.

‘Congressional fuss’

In an editorial on Dec. 19, the media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said the “congressional fuss” over alleged offenses by SMNI’s hosts “is politics at work and little else.”

CMFR acknowledged that Celiz and Partosa were “known political propagandists who have been rabid in red-tagging civil society organizations and individuals including media groups and journalists.”

The politicians objecting to Celiz and Partosa may “invoke values of civic discourse and media ethics. But their concern is really about protecting Romualdez,” CMFR said.

CMFR encouraged journalists to continue to promote “public awareness of the idea that all public officials, including the president, are subject to public scrutiny, aided by media reports that surface issues and developments that people should know about.”

No elected or appointed official can be “exempt from constant and consistent media watch” and journalists these days have more platforms to act as “watchdogs for the people, with or without a franchise,” it said.

Nothing to celebrate

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) cautioned against celebrating the NTC’s action against SMNI and urged journalists to keep sight of how similar tactics had also been used to silence critical media including ABS-CBN, Bulatlat, PinoyWeekly, Rappler, and the Inquirer.

NUJP recognized the harm being done on SMNI’s shows that red-tagged and harassed journalists and activists.

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“SMNI, its consultants, and its talents should be held accountable for peddling disinformation and hate speech, but should be accountable for those offenses and not for simply offending a member of Congress,” NUJP said in a statement on Dec. 21.

TAGS: fake news, National Telecommunications Commission, SMNI suspension, Sonshine Media Network International

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