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Lawmakers okay measure revoking SMNI franchise

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Voting 284-4-4, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to revoke the legislative franchise granted to Swara Sug Media Corporation, operating as Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI).

House Bill 9710 seeks to effectively repeal Republic Act 11422, which extended the franchise granted to Swara Sug under RA 8122 for an additional 25 years in August 2019. The renewed franchise was originally scheduled to expire in 2044.

The revocation of SMNI’s franchise was prompted by a series of alleged violations, including spreading fake news, involvement in red-tagging, and committing significant corporate offenses by its officials and television program hosts.

HB 9710 was authored by Reps. Rodge Gutierrez (1-RIDER Party-List), Jude Acidre (TINGOG Party-List), Yevgeny Vicente Emano (Misamis Oriental, 2nd District), Emerson Pascual (Nueva Ecija, 4th District), and Eulogio Rodriguez (Catanduanes, Lone District).

The bill was sponsored by Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting, who chairs the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.

A member of the Makabayan Bloc, Deputy Minority Leader and Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, voted for the revocation of the legislative franchises of SMNI, which is commonly known to be owned by Kingdom of Jesus Christ church founder Apollo Quiboloy.

Quiboloy also faces contempt charges from both houses of Congress for his refusal to appear in hearings to answer questions on his role in SMNI.

Brosas said the move of Congress to revoke its franchise “serves as evidence of their unwillingness to take responsibility for the widespread dissemination of fake news and disinformation by SMNI.”

“While freedom of the press is a fundamental right that should be protected, it does not extend to the spread of misinformation and lies. SMNI does not have the right to claim that the revocation of their franchise is an issue of press freedom when they are actively spreading misinformation,” she explained.

“Press freedom comes with responsibilities, including adhering to journalistic ethics and standards of accuracy. When media outlets fail to uphold these principles and engage in the dissemination of false information, they undermine the public’s trust and contribute to the erosion of democratic discourse,” Brosas added.

After conducting six hearings over five months since November 2023, the Tambunting panel concluded that SMNI committed “multiple grave infractions in violation of its franchise grant.”

The congressional inquiry stemmed from allegations made by SMNI hosts on the “Laban Kasama ng Bayan” program, claiming that Speaker Martin Romualdez spent P1.8 billion on travel within a year.

House officials refuted the allegation, citing official records showing that the entire chamber incurred P39.6 million in travel expenses from January to October 2023, with the Office of the Speaker disbursing only P4.3 million.

SMNI also drew criticism when former President Rodrigo Duterte rebuked the House leadership for redirecting P650 million in confidential funds from the office of Vice President Sara Duterte and the Department of Education to government agencies responsible for securing the West Philippine Sea amid China’s persistent harassment.

In light of its investigation, the franchise committee found SMNI culpable of failing to deliver truthful and balanced reporting, citing multiple cases filed against it for red-tagging, disseminating fake news, and making baseless accusations against House members, a former vice president, and private individuals.

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