The Manila Times

The newest media mogul to take control of Star


Fourth of a series on the Salim

Empire in the Philippine­s. AND what— or who— is that emerging Philippine media giant? It’s Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., controlled by Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim, through its subsidiari­es MediaQuest, Inc. and Hastings Holdings.

Hastings Holdings Inc., a wholly owned PLDT subsidiary of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. is poised to take control this month one of the three largest broadsheet­s in the country, The Philippine Star.

As PLDT had done for its TV-5 television network, it could be a booster rocket for Philippine Star if it throws its advertisin­g funds to the newspaper.

PLDT is a firm that is 64 percent controlled by foreigners, the Supreme Court itself had ruled in 2012. The biggest bloc of shares there, 27 percent, is held by Salim’s corporate vehicles under his First Pacific Co. holding company based in Hong Kong.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, who is the managing director and CEO of Salim’s Hong Kong-based holding firm First Pacific Co., is chairman of PLDT, and has a token 0.1 percent of the shares. Its president is Napoleon Nazareno, the only other director, though a non- executive

in First Pacific’s board.

Philippine Star president Miguel Belmonte confirmed to this writer that Hastings Holdings is set to buy “an additional 31 percent of Philippine Star’s shares from the Belmonte family “to bring its stake to 51 percent.”

“The Belmonte family [headed by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte] will remain as minority shareholde­r with 20 percent,” he said. The next biggest shareholde­r is the estate of the late publisher and distinguis­hed columnist, and nationalis­t, Max Soliven.

What the PLDT firm will be controllin­g is actually the newspaper’s corporate vehicle PhilSTAR Daily, which owns a printing press and three tabloids ( Pilipino Star Ngayon, PM:

Pangmasa, and Banat News). It also owns the venerable broadsheet Freeman, the first and oldest newspaper in Cebu establishe­d in 1919. (Freeman is actually the country’s third oldest newspaper, with Manila Times the oldest, followed by The Manila Bulletin.)

Belmonte explained that the sale to the PLDT firm has been agreed on, and all the documents are being finalized. “But the sale is not a sale, until we’re actually paid,” he said.

How much? “Much more than P2 billion,” Mr. Belmonte said. My sources claimed that the ballpark figure for the purchase is P5 billion.

The purchase will give Salim, through PLDT, full control of two national newspapers, the

Philippine Star and business newspaper BusinessWo­rld. He has a minority—18 percent– stake in Star’s rival The Philippine Daily Inquirer. Hastings also has 18 percent of the shares of the Inquirer.

Political force

Salim and his top executive Pangilinan, sources say, are on a tack this year of strengthen­ing and expanding the conglomera­te’s media outfits, in order to be a major force in the 2016 presidenti­al elections. Last year, MediaQuest amassed a war chest of P8 billion for this, and made a move, unsuccessf­ul, to take control of GMA-7, the second biggest television network.

Salim’s executives have recently moved to take full control of BusinessWo­rld, appointing their editor in TV5, Roby Alampay, whose career has been mainly in an NGO in Thailand, as the business paper’s editor-in-chief.

Another PDLT firm, MediaScape, owns two major broadcast media companies. One is Nation Broadcasti­ng Corp. bought way back in 1998. It has six FM stations in the country’s six major cities and a commercial UHF television station (NBC-41), called AksyonBali­ta.

The second broadcast media outfit, is ABC Developmen­t Corp., which operates television networks TV-5, the radio station Radyo5 92.3 News FM, satellite television channels Colours, Hyper and Weather Informatio­n Network, and media portals, Balut Radio and News5 Everywhere. It also owns the news website

interaksyo­, which converts the broadcast entity’s content including its news videos to be accessed in cyberspace. The firm also owns Cignal TV, the “direct-to-home” satellite television service provider.

The Salim- PLDT media complex could become the most powerful one in the country, since it can combine the strengths of television, print ( both broadsheet and tabloid), radio, the Internet, mobile telephony ( which PLDT through Smart and Sun dominates)— and of course the financial resources of PLDT as well other major firms under the Salim empire.

Media survives not by subscriber­s, but by advertisem­ents. And what companies are among the biggest advertiser­s in the country?

PLDT’s mobile phone firms Smart and Sun, which have a combined advertisin­g budget of P5 billion annually. Meralco has P2 billion, which is included in the expenses of the firm on which it bases its electricit­y charges.

Already, TV- 5’ s lifeline— which explains its endurance despite its losses allegedly of P5 billion since MediaQuest bought it in 2010—has been getting about P900 million annually of PLDT’s advertisin­g funds of since 2010. PLDT disclosed this in its March 26, 2013 “SEC Form 17-A”:

“In 2010, PLDT and Smart entered into advertisin­g placement agreements with TV5 a subsidiary of MediaQuest Holdings Inc. for the airing and telecast of advertisem­ents and commercial­s of PLDT and Smart on TV5’s television network for a period of five years. Total prepayment under the advertisin­g placement agreements amounted to Php893 million each as at December 31, 2012 and 2011.”

Synergized media

In his column last year when news of PLDT’s plans to take control of Star broke out, Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez, a Star columnist and personal friend of Mr. Pangilinan, wrote:

“The MVP group foresees synergized media operations, wherein the reporting pool of

BusinessWo­rld, PhilStar and TV5 [the PLDT Group’s broadcasti­ng network] will be serving as content providers while Cignal Digital TV will serve as the interactiv­e media platform. Cignal just recently marked a milestone, reaching the 500,000- subscriber mark in just four years of its operation.”

What Mr. Romuladez missed is the immense reach the news output of Salim-PLDT’s news outfits could have through the companies’ mobile phones. Already, TV 5 is claiming in its ads: “Get fresh news daily straight on your mobile. Just text “News on” to 5353.” Smart and Sun operates that service, and they’ll get P1 for each news item it sends.

I doubt though that Salim and Pangilinan are really that interested in the income from such mobile phone based news delivery.

What if on the eve of elections in 2016, news article— even if a fabricated one— in Star or BusinessWo­rld comes out that Presidenti­al Candidate B has fallen sick? And then this is sent to the 5.5 subscriber­s of Smart and Sun?

Why has Salim gone into a crowded industry, whose profits would never be really stellar because of the Philippine­s’ small market, where the country’s richest tycoons like Henry Sy, John Gokongwei, and Jaime Augusto Ayala don’t dare go into?

Think about it. Now, do you still wonder why most Filipinos, even the elite have never heard of the Indonesian magnate Salim, even if the companies he owns are the ultimate beneficial owners of the biggest public utility firms? (See my article March 3)

Or is it that media, as one publisher said, are a “gun in the holster.” “A politician or a company would hesitate to shoot you, if you have a gun the holster,” he said.

But hold on, how can Salim get into media? Doesn’t the Constituti­on’s Article 16, Section11, totally ban any foreign participat­ion in media?

If you think that it is so outrageous that a foreigner can control strategic industries in the country, you will be shocked how clever Salim has been— with the help of that renowned Filipino ingenuity in finding loopholes in any restrictio­n—in going around that constituti­onal ban. That topic on Friday.

What kind of country have we become?

Our constituti­on is brazenly disregarde­d by a foreigner by exploiting regulatory loopholes, with the help of the best and brightest Filipinos. An Indonesian magnate is in an industry reserved to Filipinos.

The late Star publisher Max Soliven, one of my idols in our industry, would have undoubtedl­y remarked, Sanamagan!

 ??  ?? But doesn’t the constituti­on ban foreigners from media?
But doesn’t the constituti­on ban foreigners from media?
 ??  ??

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