VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The issue over ABS-CBN’s blocktime agreement

Read this fact check in Filipino

After the committee on legislative franchises of the House of Representatives rejected ABS-CBN’s bid for a new 25-year franchise, some lawmakers still wanted an investigation of the network’s blocktime agreement with AMCARA Broadcasting Network.

Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla of Cavite had accused AMCARA of being a “dummy” of ABS-CBN Corp. and asked that the committees on good government look into the arrangement between the two networks which, he said, was a usufruct that the network used to vilify the committee. Rep. Mike Defensor of ANAKALUSUGAN subsequently seconded the motion to have AMCARA investigated by the House committee on good government and public accountability.

Further, Remulla moved that the committees on good government and on legislative franchises send a letter to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) requesting a probe into what he described as possible deception by resource persons regarding AMCARA’s involvement in ABS-CBN.

AMCARA is a TV broadcast company majority-owned by the heirs of Arcadio M. Carandang, one of the pioneers of Philippine television who used to work for ABS-CBN. Its offices are located within the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City.

The networks’ blocktime arrangement with AMCARA was first scrutinized during the June 29 public hearing on at least nine bills seeking to renew the ABS-CBN franchise that expired on May 4. The discussion focused on ABS-CBN’s airing of news and programs on digital and cable television platforms through TV Plus.

On June 30, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) served two cease and desist orders (CDO) to ABS-CBN to stop digital broadcast on TV Plus channels in Metro Manila and nationwide satellite broadcasts of Sky Direct, another company owned by the Lopez group. TV Plus was using AMCARA’s Channel 43 under a blocktime arrangement.

The NTC issued the first CDO on May 5, a day after the network’s franchise expired, which stopped ABS-CBN’s broadcast operations on 42 television stations, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, and five AM radio stations covered by RA 7966. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: NTC backpedals on ABS-CBN franchise)

The June 30 CDOs reiterated provisions in the May 5 order, saying that ABS-CBN had yet to fully comply because it was still broadcasting through cable and other channels.

What are blocktime arrangements? Are these allowed by law? Here are four things you need to know:

1. What is ‘blocktiming’ in broadcast media?

Under the Broadcast Code of the Philippines (2007) governing the Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) “blocktimer” refers to “natural or juridical persons that buys (sic) or contracts (sic) for or is (sic) given broadcast air time.”

Media watchdog Center of Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) defines blocktiming as a:

“...unique Philippine broadcast media practice of buying ‘blocks’ of air time to produce programs independent of networks and stations.”

According to AMCARA President Tony Veloso, ABS-CBN’s digital channels air on its frequency for 21 hours a day, seven days a week, with the remaining three hours allotted to sign off Channel 43 at the end of each day.

2. What’s the issue over ‘blocktime’ with ABS-CBN?

Channel 43 is a digital transmission broadcast of ABS-CBN programs, available as one of the channels on the network’s TV Plus. It continued to air even after the May 5 CDO was issued.

During the June 29 public hearing at the House, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said:

Ito pong Channel 43 ay naka-assign po sa AMCARA Broadcasting. Ang AMCARA Broadcasting ay sister company ng ABS-CBN... Si ABS-CBN ay umeere ng analog sa Channel 2 at umeere po ng digital sa Channel 43 ng AMCARA.”

(Channel 43 is assigned to AMCARA. AMCARA Broadcasting is a sister company of ABS-CBN...ABS-CBN airs analog on Channel 2 and airs digital on AMCARA’s Channel 43).”

However, according to ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak, AMCARA is “not owned” by ABS-CBN. ABS-CBN shows aired on Channel 43 operate on a blocktime agreement between the network and AMCARA.

In the June 28 hearing, Katigbak said ABS-CBN used to have 49 percent share in AMCARA but this had been sold back to the original owners sometime in 2019. ABS-CBN lawyer Maxim Uy testified in the same hearing that ABS-CBN acquired the shares in 1996 and divested the same in January 2019.

Cordoba then said:

Yung pag-ere ng ABS-CBN ng digital TV sa Channel 43 ay kasama po sa CDO dahil sa franchise na ginamit nila for that ay ‘yun pong ABS-CBN (ABS-CBN airing digital TV on Channel 43 is included in the CDO because the franchise they use for that is ABS-CBN’s).”

Channel 43 does not appear as one of the stations listed in the May 5 CDO.

NTC Cease and Desist Order ... by VERA Files on Scribd

In the July 2 hearing, Remulla, senior deputy majority leader of the House, accused AMCARA of being a “dummy” of ABS-CBN after AMCARA Chairman Rodrigo Carandang disclosed that his company was using transmitters purchased by ABS-CBN to air digital TV channels although it operates on its own franchise, which will expire on November 7.

TV Plus is a one-time-payment digital television box providing free and pay-per-view programs to select areas serviced by the network. ABS-CBN Convergence (formerly Multi-Media Telephony Inc.), which operates TV Plus and ABS-CBN mobile, had an expired franchise since March 17, but is operating under a provisional authority granted by NTC on March 16 in light of the enhanced community quarantine due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The network argued that TV Plus operates in compliance with NTC’s digital migration plan that began in 2014 for a nationwide switchover from analog to digital by 2023. TV Plus was launched in 2015, guided by the NTC’s “Rules and Regulations for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcast Service” and later, the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s “Framework of the Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting (DTTB) Migration Plan” in 2017. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PH has no ‘one franchise, one channel’ policy)

3. Is blocktiming illegal?

“Not at all,” says lawyer Romel Bagares. Since blocktiming is essentially “leasing airtime,” there is also “no franchise requirement” for blocktimers, he told VERA Files in an interview.

During the June 29 House hearing, KBP President Jun Nicdao said it is “common” to have blocktime arrangements in the broadcast industry. Blocktimers are “like program producers” who “buy airtime in order to air or broadcast their content,” he said, adding that arrangements nowadays range from a “few hours to almost the whole day.”

Nicdao also said blocktiming is not a franchise violation “as long as [the] control of the station remains with the owner of the station or the owner of the franchise holder.”

Blocktiming is also subject to “applicable law and jurisprudence on content produced,” adds Bagares.

Lawyer Marichu Lambino, who teaches media law at the University of the Philippines, told VERA Files: “Ordinary laws applicable to everyone apply to blocktimers. Thus, they become legally liable when they violate the laws on obscenity or child abuse or graphic violence, etcetera.”

The KBP Broadcast Code enforces rules for blocktimers, including a requirement for its members to sign an undertaking to comply with KBP provisions, and for public affairs programs to disclose who is responsible for producing programs during the contracted airtime.

4. Is ABS-CBN the only network engaging in blocktime arrangements?

No.

GMA Network Inc., one of the biggest media networks in the country, also had a blocktime agreement with ZOE Broadcasting Network Inc.

In 2005, ZOE agreed to provide airtime, through Channel 11, for programs produced by GMA and GMA subsidiary, Citynet Marketing and Productions. Under the agreement, GMA “provides all of the programming to Channel 11.” It also agreed to “upgrade certain broadcast facilities” owned by ZOE, among other terms, as stated in GMA’s 2008 annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The agreement, however, was not renewed after it expired in June 2019.

Television and Production Exponents Inc.’s long-running noontime show “Eat Bulaga” also airs on GMA’s afternoon block.

Even Republic Act No. 7306, the law establishing the state-owned People’s Television Network, Inc., allows the use of blocktiming, subject to certain limitations:

“The use of blocktimers shall be allowed but limited to education and sports programs only.”

Source: People’s Television Network, Inc., RA 7306, Sec. 17

Editor's note: This fact sheet was produced by a student from the University of the Philippines Diliman who is doing her internship with VERA Files.


Sources

House of Representatives of the Philippines, Committee on Legislative Franchises Joint with Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, July 6, 2020

House of Representatives of the Philippines, Committee on Legislative Franchises Joint with Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, June 29, 2020

ABS-CBN News, JUST IN: National Telecommunications Commission issues cease and desist order against Sky Cable's Direct Broadcast Satellite Service. | via @jacquemanabat, June 30, 2020

ABS-CBN News, NTC also directs ABS-CBN Corp. to immediately cease and desist from operating digital TV transmission in Metro Manila using Channel 43. | via @alvinelchico, June 30, 2020

ABS-CBN News, NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting, May 5, 2020

Chan Robles Virtual Law Library, Republic Act No. 7966, Mar. 30, 1995

Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Broadcast Code of the Philippines 2007 (as amended 2011), Accessed July 8, 2020

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Blocktiming, n.d.

House of Representatives of the Philippines, Committee on Legislative Franchises Joint with Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, July 2, 2020

Official Gazette, Republic Act No. 8135, July 16, 1995

Official Gazette, Republic Act No. 7908, Feb. 23, 1995

National Telecommunications Commission, Implementation of Enhanced Community Quarantine Over Entire Luzon Island Including Metro Manila, Mar. 16, 2020

ABS-CBN News, Launch of TVPlus, KBO complies with NTC's digital migration plan: ABS-CBN, June 29, 2020

National Telecommunications Commission, Rules and Regulations for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcast Service, Dec. 16, 2014

Department of Information and Communications Technology, Framework of the Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting (DTTB) Migration Plan, Oct. 2017

Philstar, GMA Network partners with Zoe Broadcasting Channel 11, April 28, 2005

One News, Alias CDO: Can The NTC Stop ABS-CBN From Producing Content As Blocktimer?, July 2, 2020

GMA Network Inc., ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 17 OF THE SECURITIES REGULATION CODE AND SECTION 141 OF THE CORPORATION CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES OF GMA NETWORK, INC., Aug. 8, 2000

Light TV, About Us, Accessed July 8, 2020

DTVPilipinas, Zoe Broadcasting to end Blocktime Agreement with GMA Network, April 28, 2019

People’s Television Network Inc., Republic Act No. 7306, March 26, 1992


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

FOR FURTHER READING

VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Ang isyu tungkol sa blocktime agreement ng ABS-CBN

Matapos ibasura ng committee on legislative franchise ng House of Representative ang aplikasyon ng…

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PH has no ‘one franchise, one channel’ policy

Estrellita Juliano-Tamano, president of the Federation of International Cable TV and…

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: House hearing on ABS-CBN franchise was postponed, NOT ‘cancelled’

The deliberations were moved from June 22 to 29.

About Vera Files

Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

Contact us

Email us at newsroom@verafiles.org

Follow us

MEMBER