The Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) described as a “sad day for journalism” the refusal of the House committee to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise, calling it “another assault on press freedom in the country.”- The STAR/Miguel de Guzman
MANILA, Philippines — A group of reporters covering Malacañang condemned yesterday the decision of the House of Representatives’ franchise committee to deny the application of renewal of television network ABS-CBN.
The Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) described as a “sad day for journalism” the refusal of the House committee to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise, calling it “another assault on press freedom in the country.”
“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,” the MPC said.
The MPC also warned of the development’s chilling effect on members of the so-called Fourth Estate.
“We grieve for the public. In this pandemic, we need more media organizations, not less, to inform the public of the dangers and risks of COVID-19 and how the government is responding to the crisis and to make them accountable for their missteps,” the group said.
But MPC stressed that the development will not deter the media from further strengthening its role as harbinger of information and foil to power abuse.
“While we grieve, we are not cowed. We are more emboldened to carry the torch to carry out our mission to inform the public and keep power in check,” the MPC said. “A thousand little cuts do not make us weak, these make us stronger. History is never kind to tyrants.”
The MPC also declared its solidarity with thousands of employees of ABS-CBN who stand to lose their jobs as the giant network has lost its franchise renewal bid.
“We grieve for the thousands of employees of ABS-CBN who are now in danger of losing their jobs amid this pandemic. We stand in solidarity in their fight against this State-backed repression of private media,” the MPC added.
The MPC comprises reporters from different print, television, radio and online news organizations in the country who are regularly covering the Office of the President and its executive offices.
Journalism educators speak
Several academic institutions and journalism educators have also expressed support for the broadcast network.
The De La Salle University and Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila lit up their buildings with the colors of ABS-CBN in support of the network.
“De La Salle University stands by fellow Filipinos whose livelihoods and access to news and information are heavily affected by the decision of the House of Representatives to deny the franchise of ABS-CBN,” the school said in a statement on Facebook.
“We continue to pray for the enlightenment of our leaders in government and for further vigilance of our people in protecting our democratic space,” it added.
The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication said Filipinos in far-flung areas would be deprived of timely and useful information regarding the pandemic.
“The job of the media is to serve as watchdog of society and not serve as politicians’ public relations arm,” it added.
The Polytechnic University of the Philippines College of Communication described the decision as a dark chapter in the nation’s history.
“But we have proven that this period would further unite us to defeat cowards, tyrants and the power-hungry,” it said in Filipino.
In a joint statement, 20 journalism professors at the University of Santo Tomas said the shameless conduct of lawmakers during the committee hearings delegitimizes the outcome of the vote.
“Instead of hearing all stakeholders, the committee members regurgitated arguments already debunked by competent government agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bureau of Immigration, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Justice. They also bullied ABS-CBN officials in attendance,” they said.
“Worse, the 12th hearing became an orgy of personal and petty gripes of onion-skinned politicians against ABS-CBN. Congressmen even exceeded their ambit and proclaimed themselves arbiters of good journalism and broadcast practices, exposing their ignorance and media illiteracy,” they added.
The UST Journalism Society said the day ABS-CBN was spurned of its franchise renewal bid “will surely go down in history as one of the darkest days of the Philippine press.”
“This arrogance and misuse of power delivered yet another blow to press freedom, which is already being battered by a draconian cyber libel law, troll armies, media killings and the indifference and skewed priorities of some journalists,” it said.
“This murder signals dark days ahead for the independent and critical media but we should not be intimidated. Nobody stays in power forever. Their time of reckoning will come,” it added.
Faculty members of the Far Eastern University Department of Communication said denying the franchise of ABS-CBN is tantamount to denying the Filipino people the basic right to information.
“This is not just an issue of franchise. This is a blow to press freedom, a valuable component of our democracy,” they added.
Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas have expressed dismay at Congress’ rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bid.
“We need more news platforms even more to ensure balanced news. This development should not cow us into silence,” Pabillo said in an interview over Church-run Radyo Veritas.
He vowed to support whatever legal action ABS-CBN would take and called on other media agencies to denounce the lawmakers’ decision.
“Granting a franchise is indeed a legislative prerogative. Our Catholic faith teaches us, however, that all power comes from God and therefore must be wielded responsibly. The exercise of power must always be ordered towards the common good,” Villegas, for his part, said.
“Whatever we do to the poor and to the needy, we do to Christ. And there will be a day of judgment for our crimes against the poor and the needy. We continue to place our trust in the Lord of history who guides the destinies of men and nations,” he added.
“Now that the matter of the franchise has been dealt a final blow by the Lower House, can our people be blamed for the perception that Congress, supposedly a fiercely independent body of the people’s representatives, has bent over in subservience to the President?”
In the dark
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise bid would leave many Filipinos in the dark, especially those in far-flung areas with no access to the internet.
“The thousands of workers confronted with the sudden loss of jobs also adds to the number of the struggling population who continues to suffer from loss of livelihood due to the extended lockdowns,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
“But, ultimately, the decision impacts greatly on the work of media as purveyor of free speech and information. The denial of the franchise of ABS-CBN affects greatly public interest given the reach of its broadcast, which extends to all corners of the country,” she added.
Unless Congress can convince the public that its decision was based on a fair review and devoid of any political consideration, De Guia said the denial of the franchise would have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press.
“In the end, allegations of violations should have been dealt with in accordance with existing laws,” said the human rights official.
“And the same standard that was used for ABS-CBN should have been consistent with the rest of the franchise applications. Otherwise, this puts in question the rule of law fundamental in protecting rights and instead shows a rule by law – devoid of fairness and justice,” she added.
Several groups marched to the CHR central office in Quezon City on Saturday to protest the denial of the ABS-CBN franchise.
Meanwhile, New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the rejection of the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN is an affront to Philippine press freedom “and will silence one of the country’s most influential and independent media outlets in the middle of a deadly pandemic.”
“We call on Filipino legislators to reverse this decision on appeal for the sake of press freedom,” said CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin. Robertzon Ramirez, Eva Visperas
Janvic Mateo, Christina Mendez -The Philippine Star
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