Editorial: How will Comelec find time?-A A +A
Thursday, January 24, 2013
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) may lack many things, but ambition is not one of them. This year, on top of its superhuman workload for the elections in May, it will also attempt to enforce stricter limits on propaganda.
First, it intends to reduce the airtime for political advertising. Senate and party-list candidates will now be limited to 120 minutes of advertising on television and 180 minutes on radio. This is the aggregate limit, and not the limits per network or station, which was how Comelec used to interpret this provision of Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Act. Local candidates will get even less: 60 minutes on television and 90 minutes on radio.
A second, more controversial rule requires candidates to seek permission from Comelec before they appear on-air, whether in a convention telecast, a documentary or a news interview. The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) considers this a form of prior restraint and will question it in court.
This week, Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. (@ChairBrillantes on Twitter) said the Comelec would reword Section 9 of Resolution 9615, so that what would be required of candidates would be "prior notice" and not "prior approval."
The point, Chairman Brillantes said, was to give Comelec the opportunity to monitor these appearances, for them to decide whether or not the time should be considered as part of the candidate's political advertising. The poll body has no intention of stopping the telecast.
It only wants to find out if each appearance should be considered as election propaganda and counted as part of the allowed minutes.
Comelec's professed goals for these new rules are commendable. It wants to make sure candidates are offered the equal opportunity to reach potential voters using media time and space, and it wants to rein in campaign spending.
But by its own admission, it can only enforce these rules during the official campaign period, which will start on Feb. 12 for Senate and party-list candidates and on March 29 for congressional and local candidates. Before that, all bets are off. Candidates with deeper
pockets or access to government resources will still enjoy an edge over other candidates.
One challenge will be convincing the broadcast industry to get on board. The KBP has rarely managed to enforce its own limits on advertising.
Networks that had problems with limiting the number of ad minutes per hour simply left the KBP. And what about some block time programs that are clearly propaganda? One only has to listen to the positions their mouthpieces take to get an idea of who's paying their airtime bills.
Indeed, Comelec can’t be faulted for its ambition in setting these new rules, but can it find the time to enforce them?
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 25, 2013.