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Report highlights duopoly in the Philippine media and impact on free expression

ABS-CBN Broadcast Complex
ABS-CBN Broadcast Complex

Logan/en.wikipedia

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 17 November 2016.

Despite a high number of media outlets and being described as one of the most freewheeling media systems in the region, Philippine media continue to be owned by and to depend on the economic and political elite. Two giant broadcast networks dominate the Philippine media industry both in terms of economic market power and audience reach, which gives them a major potential to shape public opinion. Ownership structures are legal on the surface but the practice of corporate layering leads to legal contraventions related to foreign ownership and taxation.

These are some of the main findings of the Media Ownership Monitor (MOM), a research and advocacy project carried out in the Philippines by VERA Files and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) over the past three months and presented in Manila today. The detailed results of the three-month study are now available to the public on the MOM website in English, and soon in Tagalog.

"Even though there might be little political control being openly exerted over Philippine media right now, the subtle yet strong ties between business interests and political power plays, found in almost all media companies, limit the media's independence", said Christian Mihr, executive director of RSF Germany. "The current legal framework does neither effectively promote transparency in the market nor takes into account conflict of interests hidden in the media's ownership structure. The Media Ownership Monitor aims to be a starting point for a discussion on more effective, independent media-specific regulation. The Philippine media business community on all levels should work on better mechanisms for media ownership and transparency."

VERA Files President Ellen T. Tordesillas added: "The power of media lies in its role as a vehicle of information to the public. An informed public is an empowered citizenry. It is, therefore, important to let the public know who is behind their sources of media, and what kind of political and businesses affiliations the owners have. Thus they can better evaluate the quality and credibility of news being dished out by the media outlets."

High market concentration across media sectors

The two media networks dominating the market economically are ABS-CBN Corporation and GMA Network Inc. They together gather a market share of 79.44%, considering the revenue of the 29 biggest media companies. Even if advertising budgets were not available for all media companies, the trend shows that especially the two big media networks benefit from selling advertising space, with TV getting the lion's share.

Both ABS-CBN Corp. and GMA Network Inc. operate across media sectors and offer the most watched, most listened to and most clicked content. Together, they reach 80.72% of the audience through their TV channels ABS-CBN2 / ABS-CBN Sports and Action and GMA/GNTV, as well as 47.2% of the FM radio listenership via DZMM 630 (ABS-CBN Corp.) and DZBB 594 (GMA Network, Inc.). Considering that TV and radio are the type of media mostly used, and TV by far the most trusted source of political information in the Philippines, they likely have an impact on public opinion. Both media networks also offer popular online news websites, which are gaining in relevance and strengthen their cross-media presence. The print market is more evenly distributed among players due to a diversity of tabloid and broadsheet titles, with the entertainment-focused tabloid newspapers being read more compared to broadsheets.

Media ownership is an enclave of politico-economic elite

Five families in the Forbes List of 2016 Philippines' 50 Richest are in the media industry, four of which made their money predominantly from media. The Lopez family tops the list of media billionaires: Oscar M. Lopez is the second son of Lopez Group founder and ABS-CBN Corporation's Eugenio H. Lopez. Eugenio "Geny" Lopez Sr. was the son of former Iloilo governor Benito Lopez and the elder brother of former Vice President Fernando Lopez. Regina Paz "Gina" Lopez does not hold a management position in the media company but is the current Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, a cabinet position to which she was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

The triumvirate of former congressman Gilberto Duavit, Menardo Jimenez and Felipe Gozon controls the media group GMA Network. Duavit's son Gilberto Jr. runs the network operations, while Duavit's younger son Michael left the board to focus on a political career. Duavit's brother in-law, Menardo Jimenez, former GMA Network's president, still holds considerable shares while serving as consultant at investment bank First Metro Investment. Advertising dollars from political ads during the 2016 presidential elections helped bring in a reported 150% increase in profits for the network in quarter one.

The Yap family, who build their wealth in banking, owns Manila Bulletin Publishing, which is responsible for the most popular broadsheet Manila Bulletin as well as the tabloids Balita and Tempo.

Even though the political and economic elite are interweaved, those links have not led to targeted discriminatory actions in the recent past, with in general little political control being openly exerted. It poses, however, a potential risk to media as soon as the political elite start to exploit the vulnerability of media owners.

Transparency only on the surface

Companies registered in the Philippines have to disclose their ownership structures to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), where information needs to be purchased. This does not prevent the practice of layering company structures to obscure ultimate beneficial owners to the public. While those complex structures are legal and theoretically can be delayered, this requires immense investigative research for each media company.

"In the course of our research, we realized that even as media demands transparency from the government and other sources, the industry is not as transparent as it should be," said VERA Files President, Ellen T. Tordesillas. The ultimate motives for establishing and frequently changing the corporate structures are questionable. One motive could be disguising foreign ownership, as it seems to be true for example for Manuel V. Pangilinan's cross-media and telecommunication empire, which can be traced back to an Indonesian investor.

Legal framework

Media-specific legal safeguards that prevent media ownership concentration do not exist. A new anti-trust body has been established by the Fair Competition Act in 2014 - the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) - which still has to show that it also monitors, and prevents or otherwise breaks up media monopolies.

The role of religious media

The involvement of religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church (Radyo Veritas) and Philippine-based Iglesia ni Cristo (INC TV), in the media market is unique for the Philippines. Officially, the Philippines is a secular nation, with the constitution guaranteeing separation of church and state. However, the Iglesias ni Cristo, led by Eduardo V. Manalo, practice bloc voting and their representatives endorsed appointees to key government positions.

***

The Media Ownership Monitor Philippines was carried out by Reporters Without Borders in partnership with VERA Files between August and November 2016. The project studied the legal environment, media concentration and ownership structures of the country's 46 most popular national media outlets.

VERA Files is a non-profit media organization composed of veteran journalists, committed to advance excellence in journalism by engaging in research-intensive, high-impact reports in multiple formats and providing training, particularly mentoring of journalists.

MOM is an international project launched by the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders. It is or is being carried out in eight countries worldwide, including Turkey, Tunisia, Colombia and Cambodia. It applies a generic methodology for all countries as it looks at ownership and media concentration of the most relevant audio-visual, print and online outlets, which are selected based on audience share. The Project is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ).

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