Reporters Without Borders calls on Congress to renew ABS-CBN franchise

MANILA, Philippines – Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Friday, January 31, urged the Philippine Congress to renew ABS-CBN's franchise, weeks before the media giant's current franchise is set to expire.

In a statement, Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said: “As the leading TV and radio network, offering independent, verified news and information free of charge to millions of citizens, ABS-CBN plays an absolutely fundamental democratic role in the Philippines." (READ: House panel chair to ABS-CBN: Franchise renewal ‘not a right, but a privilege’)

“This is why we urge parliamentarians, starting with Franz Alvarez, the chair of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, to resist the pressure from the president’s office and to immediately put the renewal of this franchise on the parliament’s agenda. The credibility of Philippine democracy and the balance between the different powers is at stake.”

ABS-CBN's legislative franchise expires on March 30.

It first applied for a franchise renewal in 2014, which led to the submision of House Bill 4349 on November 10, 2016. Since then, 8 more bills have been proposed, none of which have been voted on by Congress.

The renewal has been strongly opposed by President Rodrigo Duterte, who accused the network of not running advertisements he paid for in during the 2016 presidential campaign.

On December 30, 2019, Duterte said that it's unlikely for the franchise to be renewed adn that the network should be sold instead. In the past, he also accused the network of “publishing trash,” trying to “swindle” him, and of being “sons of bitches.”

Various groups said Duterte's bashing of the network is part of his moves to silence journalists. 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has launched a petition for the renewal of the franchise.

The Philippines ranks 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index. – Rappler.com