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'We will fight back': Media groups slam House panel for denying ABS-CBN franchise

Media groups denounced the decision of the House committee on legislative franchises to reject the franchise renewal of media giant ABS-CBN on Friday, July 10. 

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that the decision showed that the House panel  has declared itself an “enemy of democracy.”

“Today, this chamber has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests. Today, not only have more than 11,000 people 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 they need to decide on their futures as well as the entertainment that allows them a respite from the hardships of life,” the NUJP said.

Of the 85 members of the committee, 70 voted in favor of the technical working group recommendation to reject the franchise renewal, 11 voted against it,  2 inhibited, and 1 abstained. (READ: ABS-CBN defenders make last stand: ‘Why punish a company that did not breach laws?’)

AlterMidya-People's Alternative Media Network, a national network of over 30 independent media outfits in the Philippines, said decision has betrayed the Filipino people by striking another blow to press freedom and the people’s right to information. 

“To say that the members of the media sector are perturbed and disappointed is an understatement: we are beyond aghast by how the supposed politicians who were thrust to create new laws for the benefit of the Filipino people only muckraked ABS-CBN and marred the franchise deliberations with egotistical gripes and weak accusations,” Altermidya said.

ABS-CBN had enjoyed a 25-year franchise valid until May 4 of this year. A day after the franchise lapsed, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered ABS-CBN to cease its television and radio operations. 

'Government-orchestrated plot'

Altermidya said that the NTC’s order and Congress’ denial to grant the franchise are part of a “government-orchestrated plot” and “nothing less than censorship.”  

The media giant has been on the receiving end of President Rodrigo Duterte's attacks, which the Chief Executive himself telling ABS-CBN in December 2019 to just sell the network as it would not a franchise renewal anyway. The network drew his ire after failing to air around P6.6 million worth of political advertisements paid for by Duterte’s campaign in 2016. 

“It is clear as day that ABS-CBN is being punished for reporting and commenting on issues in a manner unacceptable to the Duterte administration. It is also a warning to other media outfits that if the Duterte regime can shut down the largest broadcasting network in the country with impunity, every journalist should think twice before it reports truthfully, or criticizes and dares hold government to account,” Altermidya said. 

'Dark day for journalists'

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also denounced the decision, emphasizing its effect on Filipinos' access to information. 

“The decision deprives the Filipino people of an independent source of information when millions are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. It obliterates the livelihood of thousands of journalists and media workers who risk their lives each day to keep the public informed,” FOCAP said in a statement.

It expressed its continued support to the broadcast network and urged other media organizations in the country to “uphold independence, loyalty to the public, and dedication to the truth.” 

“FOCAP stands by its ABS-CBN colleagues in this profoundly dark day for journalists in the Philippines and will join them in the struggle ahead to defend independent and courageous journalism that exacts accountability and the rule of law,” it added. 

Fight continues

Despite the denial of the franchise, NUJP said it will continue to demand to bring ABS-CBN back on air, banking on public support for the cause. (READ: Scenarios: What happens to ABS-CBN franchise after House panel vote?)

“Let us prove that it is not the 'will of Congress' but the will of the people that ultimately prevails. Let our demand remain: #IbalikAngABSCBN,” NUJP said.

Altermidya also vowed to exhaust all means to fight back and continue the battle for press freedom. 

“We are beyond enraged. The fight for press freedom and the people’s right to know does not end with this farce in Congress. The Filipino media, and the broad section of the Filipino nation, are not backing down. We will exhaust all efforts to fight back and reclaim our rights,” Altermidya said.

Other journalists, including the Malacañang Press Corps, have slammed the decision, calling it "state-backed repression of private media." – 

Jene-Anne Pangue

Jene-Anne Pangue is a community and civic engagement specialist of MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm. Her involvement with Rappler started when she became a mover in 2014 and an intern in 2015. Since then, she learned the importance of building communities of action for social good as she continues to work with movers and doers across the country.