Petition vs ABS-CBN ‘parasitic assault’ on press freedom, says anti-disinformation network

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Petition vs ABS-CBN ‘parasitic assault’ on press freedom, says anti-disinformation network
The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation condemns the solicitor general's quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court


MANILA, Philippines – The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation (D&D) on Tuesday, February 11, decried Solicitor General Jose Calida’s Supreme Court petition against ABS-CBN, calling it a “parasitic assault on press freedom” and a “perversion of the rule of law.”

“This is deeply disturbing, because shutting down the largest media network in the country will not only cause the loss of thousands of jobs and affect the lives of millions who are loyal consumers of the news and entertainment produced by the network; it will be a terrible attack on press freedom, and on democracy itself,” said the consortium of individuals and institutions committed to democracy and engaged in the  campaign to counter disinformation.

ABS-CBN has been the subject of presidential ire, and President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly warned the company that its franchise will not be renewed after it expires on March 30. 

Congress has the mandate to issue, renew or cancel broadcasting franchises, but Calida on Monday brought the matter to the High Court.

“That SolGen will abuse the quo warranto remedy, despite the constitutional fact that Congress retains the power to review broadcasting franchises, only underscores the grave threat this petition poses to our fundamental freedoms and our democratic processes,” the group said.

D&D noted that Calida’s petition is based on “patent disinformation” about the use of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) by media companies.

PDRs are financial instruments used by media entities to allow foreign investments without violating the constitutional rule that media companies should be 100% Filipino-owned. PDRs are a common, lawful practice, and their legality has been upheld by the SC. (READ: Misconceptions on PDRs)

In his petition, Calida just listed the foreign companies that have been issued PDRs by ABS-CBN, saying the scheme has allowed foreign influence over the Philippine media. This claim was debunked by the media giant, saying that its PDRs were evaluated and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Philippine Stock Exchange. 

D&D also chided Calida for admitting that he had not yet read all the supposed evidence gathered by his office against ABS-CBN, “displaying the kind of conduct that allows disinformation to fester and injustice to undermine the democratic project.”

Unusual action

The group also slammed the solicitor general for confronting ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo during the filing of the petition. Instead of responding to reporters’ questions, Calida chose to say his move had nothing to do with politics, the group observed.

“That makes Solicitor General Calida’s unusual legal action itself political; that makes his no-politics statement blatant disinformation; and that makes the quo warranto filing a parasitic assault on press freedom and the rule of law,” D&D said.

The statement was signed by at least 6 institutions and more than 30 individuals, including Vera Files, Mindanews, the UP College of Mass Communications, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Rock Ed Philippines, and Rappler.

“To the rhetoric of intimidation and the infrastructure of disinformation, the administration now adds, through this quo warranto filing, another perversion of the rule of law,” the group said. 

Other media outlets have also been under attack under the Duterte administration, such as Rappler, which is facing a number of government investigations and cases; the Inquirer, whose owners have been brought to court; and Vera Files, which has been subjected to disinformation and harassment. – 

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