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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Media executives air concerns on the perils of foreign ownership in the advertising industry

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The hearing on proposed constitutional amendments to ease restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses continued at the Senate on Thursday, with some heads of local media organizations and advertising executives raising issues insofar as national interests are concerned.

Speaking to Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, chairperson of the Senate subcommittee on the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 6, Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) president Jimmy Policarpio said the relaxed advertising rules might be exploited by other countries with an agenda.

“My only concern is at a time like this [when] we’re in the midst of a media battle concerning the West Philippine Sea and the South [China] Sea, the entry of foreign entities in our country could enhance foreign interests to the detriment of local interests or our own—the Filipino people itself,” he said.

Policarpio attributed this to the growing influence of social media in the country. He said there are individuals that have accumulated serious following on social media that are supporting the narrative of China in this complicated territorial issue, which bothers him.

Medyo binebenta na (It appears like a sellout)—some locals binebenta na ang Pilipinas sa (are selling the Philippines to) China… That should be stopped, that should be considered, that should be controlled,” he added.

IBC is a state-owned media organization under the Presidential Communications Office.

Angara acknowledged his perspective, agreeing that “national interest must be protected.” Unfortunately, the senator said social media networks cannot be regulated at the moment. But he is aware that there are certain individuals, who allow themselves to be exploited.

“They use their platform, but that’s free speech. We have to respect that,” Angara said. For what it’s worth, the senator believes the legislature can put some specific regulations on a statutory level to protect national interests while striking a balance with economic welfare.

Manila Bulletin and United Print Multimedia Group president Barbie Atienza supported Policarpio’s position. He expressed similar reservations with respect to the degree that advertisers can exert influence over editorial independence and content regulation.

For this reason, Atienza agrees that exercising some limits to the entry of foreign investors can also be good for the economy. He said it should be reinforced with some regulatory provisions to safeguard editorial independence.

Representatives from different advertising agencies and related groups, meanwhile, had varying views on the matter.

Anna Chua-Norbert, Chief Culture Officer of DDB (Doyle Dane Bernbach) Group and Managing Director of DDB Philippines, said majority of their members are independent and they do enjoy making autonomous decisions—creatively and operations-wise—under the prevailing circumstances.

“Not only do they share the revenue to their own (employees) and not have that money go somewhere else or in a foreign company. As a practitioner… we’ve seen all sorts of advertising agencies already in the country. Whether they’re international or local, they’re already here, so it really doesn’t change much for us,” Chua-Norbert said.

Lawyer Jerraemie Patulot, legal officer of TV5, said the expansion may offer some advantages due to capital infusion and transfer of knowledge from foreign experts on their best practices, which can help elevate the local advertising industry.

However, she pointed out that this particular development may be assessed through existing statutory requirements or regulatory frameworks to check if the content of the ads to be produced will be applicable to the Filipino public for their consumption.

Stanley Cabrera, legal counsel of the Federation of International Cable TV Association of the Philippines (FICTAP), said they are prepared to transition into allowing more foreign investments in the telecommunications industry.

“We appreciate the initiative and the efforts of both Houses of Congress in finding ways to adopt foreign investments. We understand that foreign investors view the Philippines as having a lot of potential and, of course, we would also appreciate it if they would invest in the Philippines,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Ad Standards Council (ASC) and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP), lawyer Rudolph Jularbal said the Philippines always operated under a unique landscape because it is largely self-regulated.

But the technology blurred the lines in terms of creating job opportunities, a point which Angara also acknowledged later on in a press briefing after the hearing.

“The developments in technology have changed the landscape insofar as job creation is concerned. In fact, Filipino talents work for foreign companies online and the reverse is also true. Foreign talents are contributors to content, advertising content online,” Jularbal said.

“In a way, it renders the distinction on ownership less important. Perhaps it is important only for the local ad agencies because if they have a (foreign) partner, they need to remit their share or profits (to that company), like what one advertising agency owner said,” Angara told reporters partly in Tagalog.

The Senate subcommittee was deliberating on the proposed amendments to the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution on the education, public utilities and advertising sectors.

Angara’s panel already heard arguments for and against the opening up of public utilities and higher education in the previous hearings.

The subcommittee on RBH 6 had set more consultations on the matter in Baguio City on May 23 and Cagayan de Oro City on May 24.

The 19th Congress adjourns on May 24 and will be back on July 21, 2024 for the State of the Nation Address of President Marcos. After the SONA, Angara said they will have a few more weeks to continue the debates.

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