THE House Committee on Legislative Franchises started an investigation on Thursday into potential violations of the legislative franchise held by Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) in response to accusations that some SMNI anchors have been spreading fake news and engaging in red-tagging.
The investigation was prompted by a privilege speech from House Deputy Majority Leader David Jay-Jay Suarez, addressing allegations made by SMNI anchors Eric Celis and Lorraine Badoy. The anchors claimed that Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez had incurred P1.8 billion in travel expenses, a claim debunked by House records.
Following their statements, Celis and Badoy issued apologies, expressing regret for any harm caused by their remarks. They clarified that they are not involved in any smear campaign against Congress.
Chaired by Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting, the franchise committee is also examining two resolutions from the Makabayan bloc regarding SMNI. One resolution focuses on alleged fake news peddling and baseless red-tagging, while the other addresses fake news, red-tagging, and grave threats against ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro by former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and SMNI.
Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) Vice President for Legal and Regulatory Compliance Group, Rudolph Jularbal, confirmed SMNI’s accreditation with the organization, subjecting it to KBP rules.
However, Jularbal noted that SMNI allegedly lacks observance of the KBP Code of Conduct, with no anchor accredited and no one undergoing a seminar on the broadcast code.
During the hearing, House Secretary General Reginald Velasco presented a financial report on foreign travel expenses for the Office of the Speaker, House Members, and the Secretariat.
The report aimed to refute allegations made by SMNI anchors.
Velasco clarified that the total expenses for the mentioned entities from January to October 2023 were P39,605,123.61, far from the alleged P1.8 billion.
The panel vice chair, Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel, emphasized that the financial report contradicts SMNI’s claims, indicating a violation of Section 4 of its legislative franchise under Republic Act No. 11422. This section prohibits the use of stations or facilities for the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation detrimental to public interest.
In his opening statement, Suarez, meanwhile, underscored the responsibility of media practitioners to validate information before making it public, citing KBP guidelines on unconfirmed reports.
SMNI operates under the 25-year legislative franchise provided in RA 11422, granted to Swara Sug Media Corporation of the Philippines on August 22, 2019.
The network is allegedly owned by religious leader Apollo Quiboloy.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes