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SC affirms ABC block-time agreement with Primedia


THE SUPREME Court (SC) has affirmed the denial of GMA Network, Inc.’s petition seeking to nullify a 2008 block-time agreement between ABC Development Corp. (ABC-5), currently known as TV 5 Network, Inc., and MBP Primedia, Inc., for allegedly being illegal.

In a 30-page decision on Jan. 11 and made public on May 11, the SC Second Division agreed with a Quezon City trial’s court’s ruling that said the petition was premature and should have first presented its case to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

“This court finds the filing of the action before the trial court premature due to the existence of predicate factual issues demanding the [NTC’s] competence, owing to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction,” the high tribunal said.

The NTC has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate and control broadcast services in the Philippines as well as the ownership of television companies. It is also mandated under law to maintain “effective” competition among private firms engaged in the operation of public service communications.

GMA argued that the agreement violated the constitutional limitation of foreign ownership in mass media in the Philippines, which caused unfair competition among local broadcasting networks.

Primedia is a Philippine firm backed by Media Prima Berhad of Malaysia.

GMA claimed that 93.75% of ABC-5’s airtime was controlled by the Malaysian firm, which it said went against the Anti-Dummy Law that imposes foreign equity restrictions on local companies.

The High Court said the NTC is in the “best position to judge matters relating to the broadcasting industry as it is presumed to have an unparalleled understanding of its market and commercial conditions.

Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. which is the holdings firm of TV 5, has a majority stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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