Sonshine Media Network International’s (SMNI) day of reckoning is long overdue. In recent developments of the Congress’ probe on SMNI, anchors Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey Celiz were released from detention on December 12, in a feeble attempt to escape punishment and ironically citing their “democratic rights to free expression.”
The media’s role in shaping public opinion warrants mechanisms that ensure its adherence to ethical standards—one essential mandate that SMNI brazenly neglects in its “reportage.” Without proper sanctions, media outfits like SMNI freely continue to target individuals it deems are opposed to its political agenda. With no surprise, the outfit served as a mouthpiece for the Dutertes with SMNI’s owner, Apollo Quiboloy, who openly supported former President Rodrigo Duterte during his administration.
The prosecution against SMNI is justified for baselessly red-tagging government critics who will have their lives and freedoms endangered as they are placed in the state’s crosshairs. Anchors Badoy and Celiz consistently label critics of the Duterte administration, including activist Carol Araullo, as terrorists. In a fascist state led by the militaristic administration of Duterte, red-tagging sets a perilous precedent for the safety and well-being of activists, often posing a threat to their security and costing their lives.
With the persisting impunity under the Marcos administration, allowing state regulation over the media also sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the attainment of a free press—one that the country continues to grapple with.
SMNI is now being probed for exaggerating Speaker Ferdinand Romualdez’s travel expenses during a program in November in which they claimed he spent P1.8 billion. On the pretense to “halt deliberate disinformation,” Congress adopted a resolution on December 11 urging the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to suspend SMNI’s operations. Ramon Gutierrez, representative of the 1-Rider party list, also filed House Bill 9710, proposing to revoke SMNI’s franchise for being “a threat to national security and stability.”
These actions by the state drew concern from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines who highlighted the risk of government media manipulation. Not long ago, the government’s counter-insurgency efforts led to the NTC’s blocking of alternative media sites like Bulatlat and PinoyWeekly.
Congress is also mulling over a resolution, an action that does need the approval of the Senate and the president, to revoke SMNI’s franchise for various violations. The decision’s expedient nature makes it a controversial one as it can be weaponized against other outlets the state finds a threat. It should not be overlooked that this was the same tactic used by former President Duterte to shut down ABS-CBN, a news outlet that scrutinized his administration’s bloody campaign on the war on drugs.
Hostility against media remains unaddressed, and even exacerbated, by the current Marcos administration. There have been over 100 attacks against media workers since Marcos Jr. assumed the presidency in 2022, according to the National Union of Journalists.
In November 2022, the Universal Periodic Review, where United Nations members report human rights violations for review, called on the Philippines to investigate crimes against journalists and to cease all attempts at curtailing media freedom. Yet Marcos Jr.'s vows in June to protect media workers remain as lip service when media workers, such as broadcasters Juan Jumalon and Percy Lapid, continue to be killed under his administration.
Amid the crisis in media, a menacing pattern that targets critical journalism and provides an avenue for partisan politics to cripple news organizations is being institutionalized by the state. Romualdez feigns victimhood but is a perpetrator of this himself, using his influence to enhance his business ventures in media. Soon, franchise revocations and suspensions will threaten the very existence of a free press should the government be given more power to regulate it.
This looming danger highlights the importance of achieving media accountability without external control. The premise hinges on self-regulation which entails the participation of all outlets to join self-regulatory bodies like the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas. By requiring the media to adhere to standards of professional responsibility, it lays the framework for ethical journalism that serves the public interest.
The primary objective of journalism is forwarding the truth. And SMNI’s perversion of this fundamental value should be met with vehement criticism from media outlets to discredit it as a platform.
But the implications of the SMNI proceedings cannot be ignored for the state has alarmingly equipped itself with a new arm to silence its critics. Without a free press, the media’s indispensable role as society’s watchdog will degenerate into a mouthpiece for the state. Alternative and mainstream outfits now have a collective duty to probe, not just the government, but each other for any acts that disservice the public. ●
Feb 10, 2024
Wala akong hangad na angkinin ang oras mo. Bakit ko naman gagawin iyon, kung sa mga kwento mo tungkol sa iyong pagkilos ay nakikita kitang masaya, nabubuhayan ng loob na magpatuloy at magpakahusay.
Feb 10, 2024
Bago maiahon ni Jimenez sa nais na katanyagan ang UP, esensyal na masigurong nakalapat muna ang kanyang pamumuno sa pagtugon sa kagyat na kahingian ng mga sektor ng pamantasan.