MANILA - Administration senatorial candidate Cynthia Villar today criticized the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) imposition of shorter airtime limits for political advertisements on broadcast media during the campaign period of the mid-term elections.
In resolution number 9615, the commission en banc said candidates for national office should have an aggregate total of 120 miniutes of TV airtime and 180 minutes of radio airtime for their campaign.
"For Candidates/Registered Political parties for a National Elective Position: Not more than an aggregate total of one hundred (120) minutes of television advertising, whether appearing on national, regional, or local, free or cable television, and one hundred eighty (180) minutes of radio advertising, whether airing on national, regional, or local radio, whether by purchase or donation.
"For Candidates/ Registered Political parties for a Local Elective Position: Not more than an aggregate total of sixty (60) minutes of television advertising, whether appearing on national, regional, or local, free or cable television, and ninety (90) minutes of radio advertising, whether airing on national, regional, or Local radio, whether by purchase or donation."
This is a deviation from the rules of 2004, 2007 and 2010 when candidates were given the same airtime limits but on a per network basis.
'Newcomers at a disadvantage'
In a statement, Villar said the shorter airtime puts newcomers at a disadvantage and gives an edge to candidates who are already prominent even before the elections.
"I think it will affect newcomers or new names in politics more than the reelectionists or those who have had prior positions in government kasi wala pang name recall. Also, it will also be disadvantageous to private people compared to media people or other prominent personalities, for example, those who are in showbusiness," Mrs. Villar said.
Villar's husband, Manny, was among the biggest advertisers in the 2010 presidential campaign.
The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) already aired their concerns about the Comelec's rule while it was still being discussed.
In a January 3 letter to the Comelec, the KBP argued that the rule runs counter to previous rules implemented in previous elections, where the allowable airtime for political ads was interpreted as "per station."
The KBP noted that this interpretation adopted previously by the commission took into account not only the legislative intent, but also the limits on campaign spending, the right of the public to information, the right of candidates to determine the most effective means of advertising expenditure to reach the electorate, and the peculiarities and nuances of local broadcast media.
The KBP pointed out that the Fair Election Act was implemented to lift the ban on political advertisements years ago.
"Interpretations of the said law should, therefore, be liberally interpreted in favor of allowing political advertisements since it was enacted precisely to lift the [then] existing ban on said political advertisements. Thus, it is submitted, that when there is ambiguity, an interpretation that favors wider latitude for allowing political advertising should be the preferred interpretation," KBP said.
KBP cites nuances in broadcast media
Furthermore, the KBP expressed doubts on the practicality of the rule considering the nuances of broadcast media technology.
"There is also no mechanism in place for a broadcast station to determine whether a candidate or political party has exceeded the allowable time for political advertisements that would potentially place the station in violation of election laws, rules and regulations," it added.
The KBP further explained that "Television and radio stations have what are known as 'coverage areas' or 'primary service areas'." These are the areas where the stations are intended to be viewed (TV/cable) or heard (radio), as the case may be, based on their licenses issued by the National Telecommunications Commission. The basis for "service areas" is precisely the recognition that because of the laws of physics, the propagation of broadcast signals is only within a primary area which is affected by terrain, location and height above sea level of antenna, time of day, weather conditions, etc.
The KBP added, "Admittedly, and specially for some radio stations in Metro Manila, they can be heard in the NCR, Pampanga, all the way to Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, sometimes and in certain times of the day, even up to Pangasinan and Ilocos, Batangas and Naga. (In fact, a cumulative approach to limiting election propaganda unfairly favors such stations and is akin to a "class legislation"). This notwithstanding, this does not mean that the candidate advertiser is effectively reaching the target audience. In fact, the quality of broadcast, programming, and the local dialect affect listenership. The realities of advertising dictate that an effectively communication plan i.e. one that reaches an intended market at the most cost effective means, involves the use of local stations. The cumulative approach bars the candidate from doing this effectively. This likewise prevents a candidate from reaching an audience that he could not reach due to logistical constraints and favors candidates who have the financial means. The reality is Mass Media is still the most cost effective means of reaching the electorate."
The KBP also noted the greater concerns during the passage of the law were allowing mass media as a venue for candidates to inform the voting public of their qualifications, programs and platforms, the right of the people to information, and the freedom of the press and of expression, as opposed to the concern over the limited resources of a candidate.
"We, further, most respectfully submit that leveling the "financial" playing field by limiting the allowable advertising time was not the legislative intent. The Fair Election Act made separate provisions to address this concern and the ability, capacity and opportunity of candidates to access the mass media," the KBP said.
Meantime, a candidate for senator wants the Comelec to buy them campaign airtime from broadcast networks.
Bayan Muna senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño hopes the Comelec can make mass media advertising more fair to all candidates by providing them the airtime.
"It is good that Comelec is trying to limit the exposure of moneyed and powerful candidates and parties. We hope it will truly lessen the barrage of campaign ads. But to have a real level playing field it is crucial that Comelec buy more airtime that can be tapped equally by all candidates. Comelec should use its billions of savings for this purpose," Casiño said.
Liberal Party (LP) senatorial candidates Bam Aquino and Grace Poe likewise welcomed the new rules.
Aquino said, "I think this will level the playing field and not give a distinct advantage to candidates with more resources. Let's hope that the Comelec can monitor the ads properly and efficiently."
Poe said, "the 120-hrs policy will force the candidates to produce ads with a clear msg for optimum results. The policy also allows candidates like me with less financial clout to compete at a more level playing field."
Poe, however, said that there should be no limits to internet campaigns.
"But they should not limit internet campaigning. The internet is one of the few remaining media avenues to advertise for free. Also, it will be impractical to monitor every social media thread. How will they exactly limit internet exposure? Are netizens reactions counted?"