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ABS-CBN apologizes to Duterte in hearing

ABS-CBN (from left) general counsel Mario L. Bautista, president and CEO Carlo Katigbak, and chief operating officer Cory Vidanes appear at the Senate hearing on the media giant’s franchise  renewal Monday. (Jansen Romero)

ABS-CBN (from left) general counsel Mario L. Bautista, president and CEO Carlo Katigbak, and chief operating officer Cory Vidanes appear at the Senate hearing on the media giant’s franchise renewal Monday. (Jansen Romero)

By VANNE TERRAZOLA

The top official of the embattled ABS-CBN network apologized to President Duterte yesterday for airing the television advertisement critical of him during the 2016 presidential elections.

At the Senate Committee on Public Services hearing on the media network’s legislative franchise, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak said the company was sorry, although he maintained that they were only complying with existing laws and regulations about political advertisements.

“We were sorry if we offended the President, that was not the intention of the network, we felt that we were just abiding the laws and regulations that surrond the airing of political ads,” Katigbak said.

Katigbak was earlier confronted by long-time Duterte aide Sen. Christopher Go about the Chief Executive’s beef with the broadcast company.

Go accused the network of engaging in black propaganda to malign then presidential candidate Duterte by prioritizing the ad paid for by former senator and staunch administration critic Antonio Trillanes IV.

“Hindi mababaw ang rason ng Pangulo sa kanyang grievances against the network. Nasaktan ang Presidente. Nababoy ang Presidente. Hindi vindictive ang Pangulo, but it is clear that someone went overboard in trying to malign him,” he said, clarifying to his colleagues Duterte’s sentiment.

Echoing Duterte’s call for “fair” reporting, the neophyte senator told the broadcast network: “Kung masama ka sa Pangulo, maging mas masama siya sa iyo. Kung mabait ka kay Pangulo, mas mabait sya sa inyo.”

Katigbak, in response, explained that the network offers two kinds of political ad spots to candidates: The national ads, or those that would be aired all over the country with 19 minutes of airtime per hour, and the local ads, which are aired over specific provinces at two minutes per hour.

He recalled that Duterte had placed P117-million worth of national ads in the television station, all of which were accommodated and aired during the campaign period.

It was on Duterte’s local ad placement that ABS-CBN “had a problem,” Katigbak said, as he cited restraints with the two-minute-per-hour airtime.

The network failed to air P7 million of the P65-million ad placement paid for by Duterte.

“Our policy on all our ads is ‘first come, first served,’ and many of these spots were placed, ordered on May 3rd, and May 7th was the last day of the campaign period. So there has been many previous telecast orders that were already ahead, that came in ahead of the President’s telecast order,” he pointed out.

Katigbak said that they were able to return about P4 million of the P7-million unaired ad placement. As for the remaining P2.6 million, Katigbak said Duterte declined to accept it when they were returning his money.

Go confirmed this, showing to the Senate panel the check from ABS-CBN. He said Duterte refused “because elections were over.”

“On this issue, we acknowledge our shortcoming that we were not able to release the refund in a timely manner. And we corrected that, so in 2019, our policy is seven days, if your spot is not aired, the check should be back to the client or advertiser within seven days,” Katigbak said.

As for its decision to broadcast Trillanes’ advertisement against Duterte’s presidential bid, Katigbak noted that the Fair Elections Act – which Go also quoted to call out ABS-CBN – recognizes as a “lawful” the election propaganda by television or radio “for or against a candidate.”

“That, to us, was our first reason why our internal committee gave a green light to the ad,” he said.

The ABS-CBN chief also recalled that they had to reject the initial version of the Trillanes-sponsored advertisement against Duterte “because we felt that the children were performing inappropriate actions or behaviors.”

They later approved the revised version in which the children featured were merely asking questions, he said.

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