ABS-CBN to Supreme Court: NTC shutdown violates press freedom

In asking for an immediate halt to the cease and desist order against its broadcasting operations, ABS-CBN told the Supreme Court on Thursday, May 7, that the shutdown order is a violation of freedom of the press.

"The Cease and Desist Order (CDO) also violates the right of the public to information and is a curtailment of the freedom of speech and the press," said ABS-CBN in a 46-page petition for certiorari filed Thursday.

The petition wants to void the National Telecommunications Commission's or NTC's cease and desist order in its entirety, but it also asks for an injunction as a temporary relief. An injunction could allow ABS-CBN to go back on the air while the Supreme Court resolves the main petition.

"Strong public interest and equity demand that ABS-CBN be allowed to continue its operations," said ABS-CBN's lawyers from the firm Poblador Bautista & Reyes, the same lawyers that represented former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in her quo warranto case.

ABS-CBN appealed to the Court to let it broadcast amid the coronavirus pandemic where, according to the petition, "the public needs the services of ABS-CBN now more than ever."

"ABS-CBN cannot be closed without compromising the fundamental guarantees of freedom of speech and the press," said the petition.

ABS-CBN said that the cease and desist order amounts to curtailment of the freedom of speech by resorting to prior restraint.

Prior restraint is defined by the Supreme Court as requiring "some form of permission to be had before publication," and called it "an infringement of the constitutional right."

The Supreme Court had said in previous cases that free speech can only be regulated or restricted if it passes a scrutiny test. Among the criteria is a clear and present danger that a substantive evil is going to happen if it's not restricted.

"The NTC does not allege at all any important government interest or substantive evil which would justify preventing ABS-CBN from broadcasting," said the petition.

ABS-CBN had invoked free speech before when Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court for a gag order against the network and its journalists, with respect to the petition for quo warranto he filed to void the network's previous franchise.

The Supreme Court is still deliberating on the petition for quo warranto, and the motion for a gag order.

In the petition, ABS-CBN said the quo warranto petition had become moot because the franchise had already expired. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.