Majority of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted yesterday for the recommendation to reject the bills of the country’s largest media network, ABS-CBN, for a franchise renewal.
The technical working group asserted that the denial to grant franchise renewal for ABS-CBN was not related to the suppression of press freedom in any way.
“It is what it is – a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.”
“Such a scenario is totally inconsistent with the nature of legislative franchises as a mere privilege and never a matter of right,” the findings said.
Out of 85 members of the Committee, 70 voted to approve the rejection, 11 to dismiss, two to inhibit, and one abstained.
The Committee discussed various allegations against the network, including chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez’s dual citizenship, possible violation of prohibition against foreign ownership of mass media, numerous violations in the terms of its legislative franchise, questionable tax avoidance schemes, apparent use of a dummy, and less than exemplary labor practices.
After 12 hearings of the franchise bills, the Committee found that “the foregoing, taken collectively, weighs heavily against the grant of legislative franchise to ABS-CBN.”
Attack on press freedom, apparent political motive – critics
Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said in his statement that the nonrenewal of the media giant is a “grievous assault on press freedom in the country,” stifling the freedom of the media akin to late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law who shut down ABS-CBN and other critical media outlets.
He further asserted that Duterte’s move was politically motivated.
“This move solidifies the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte who accused ABS-CBN of slights against him and politically targeted it for refusing to toe the government’s line and criticizing his so-called war on drugs,” he said.
Duterte was known to have issued threats to deny renewal of the media giant after gaining his ire. During the 2016 campaign, ABS-CBN aired an advertisment of the then candidate cursing, delivering rape jokes, and threatening to kill. The ad was paid for by his opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.
The network also failed to air around P6.6 million worth of his political advertisements. They had returned at least P4 million, but Duterte “no longer accepted” the remaining balance.
Duterte clarified that he would “not interfere” with the Congress’ decision on the franchise renewal after the media giant issued an apology last February to the president.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) emphasized that “the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress of the Philippines has declared itself enemy of democracy.”
“Today, not only have more than 11,000 people have been stripped of their jobs, millions of Filipinos have been deprived of their right to know and their right to choose how to access the information that they need to decide on their futures as well as the entertainment that allows them a respite from hardships of life,” NUJP asserted.
Malacañang Press Corps, in their statement, condemned the decision of the Congress stating “a thousand little cuts don’t make us weak, these make us stronger. History is never kind to tyrants.”
“We deplore the blatant and arrogant abuse of power. This is a warning to the press: do not offend the powers that be. One less watchdog is one step towards tyranny,” they said.
SunStar Davao columnist Tyrone Velez questioned whose interest was served by denying the network its franchise, leaving 11 thousand workers to face uncertainty after losing their jobs.
He further shared that it was a lesson learned for ABS-CBN after “decades of cashing on sensational news… sentimental soaps and scripted dramas of politicians that dumb down the masses, the news segments that treat activists as nuisance and a cause of traffic.”
“It’s a lesson learned about how our power could be wielded that they will give back that respect and trust. But wait, maybe I should address that last line instead to the Congressmen and Congresswomen who chose to abuse their power over freedoms,” Velez chided.
“Whatever, it’s a dark day for freedom, and we need to learn to move forward,” he added.
In addition, AdDU Media and Information Literacy (MIL) teacher Jill Villanueva Palarca in her Facebook post said that “it is only fair that [ABS-CBN] be given a franchise,” highlighting the MIL production principle.
“If a media material is then created by a creator whether it be an individual or institution, it is always incomplete or inflated because the creator per se has biases. That’s human nature.” Palarca stated.
“So if everyone is biased then to accuse [ABS-CBN] as biased and to remove them of their rights to broadcast then we should all be censored for posting our biased opinions here on Facebook. Nobody should be allowed to use social media for whatever reason then. The responsibility you put on [ABS-CBN] should also be on your shoulders because in the digital age we are all media.” she added.