House of Representatives

Unlike ABS-CBN, other newsrooms ‘not playing kingmaker’ – Cayetano

Mara Cepeda
Unlike ABS-CBN, other newsrooms ‘not playing kingmaker’ – Cayetano

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano delivers a manifestation on ABS-CBN during a House hearing on DSWD's emergency subsidy program on July 16, 2020. Screenshot from Zoom

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano again accuses ABS-CBN of attempting to influence politics, a claim the network has denied

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said lawmakers junked ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal not to stifle the press, but because the media giant has long been playing “kingmaker” in the country.

Cayetano did not mince words against the beleaguered network on Thursday, July 16, as he once again defended the House committee on legislative franchises’ overwhelming rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise bid. 

The Speaker said other newsrooms like GMA, its radio arm DZBB, and Rappler are not attempting to influence politics like ABS-CBN – an accusation hurled at the country’s largest media network in the course of its 13 franchise hearings. 

“Alam ‘nyo po ba, in my case ha, mas maraming matinding tuligsa sa akin na nanggagaling sa DZBB [kaysa] sa DZMM. Kung freedom of expression lang ang pag-uusapan, mas maraming tumitira sa akin sa Channel 7 at tsaka sa DZBB. Pero bakit po I respect them, tinuturing ko pa ring kaibigan? ‘Pag humingi ng interview, nagpapa-interview pa rin ako?” Cayetano said.

(You know, in my case, there are more reports critical of me from DZBB than DZMM. If we’re going to just talk about freedom of expression, there are more people criticizing me in Channel 7 and DZBB. But why do I respect them and still treat them as my friends? When they ask for interviews, why do I still agree?)

“Gano’n din sa mga Rappler. Tanong ‘nyo doon sa mga taga-Rappler sa DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). Never ko sila ine-exclude, kinakausap ko. Bakit? Because they are not playing kingslayer or kingmaker,” added the ex-DFA chief turned Taguig City-Pateros congressman.

(The same goes for Rappler. You can ask those from Rappler who were deployed to the DFA. I never excluded them and I still talked to them. Why? Because they are not playing kingslayer or kingmaker.)

Cayetano made his fresh tirades against ABS-CBN during the resumption of the House probe into the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s emergency subsidy program on Thursday.

The Speaker’s remarks also came just a day after ABS-CBN said it will retrench employees effective August 31. The network remains closed after its old franchise expired on May 4 and it was ordered to shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission.

Cayetano earlier said other broadcasting companies like GMA and TV5 easily had their franchises renewed by Congress because they were not being accused of biased reporting. (READ: Cayetano counters Robredo, Poe: No chilling effect after dead ABS-CBN franchise)

ABS-CBN, however, has maintained it did not favor any candidate in its coverage of past elections. The network’s news chief Ging Reyes also told lawmakers that their reporters always strive to keep their biases in check.

The Speaker previously claimed his colleagues did Filipinos a favor by moving against one of the country’s “oligarchs”: the Lopezes who own ABS-CBN.

Accusations vs Rappler

Cayetano, however, also took a jab at Rappler and accused it of allegedly moving to oust President Rodrigo Duterte. Rappler has repeatedly denied this allegation.

“In the terms of the presidency, ‘yong Rappler, sorry, but very anti in a very unfair way kay Presidente. Parang gusto ‘nyo na talaga palitan eh,” said the Speaker. 

(In terms of the presidency, Rappler, sorry, but you’re very anti in a very unfair way to the President. It’s like you really want him ousted.)

Cayetano’s statement is false because Rappler has never been part of any supposed attempt to unseat Duterte. Rappler also produces stories that are critical of both the Duterte administration and the opposition movement against him.

Rappler has in fact drawn the ire of politicians from both sides of the aisle because of its critical reporting.

Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa is facing 7 criminal charges in various courts, all related to Rappler’s Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), over which the news company was ordered shut in 2018. But the Court of Appeals already ruled the PDR problem has been cured. 

Manila Judge Rainelda Estacio Montesa recently found Ressa and former Rappler writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr guilty of cyber libel. Ressa and Santos have since filed their appeal, saying there was malice in the judge’s ruling.

Critical but not partisan

In the same manifestation on Thursday, Cayetano said news organizations can strongly criticize the government, but they should not be partisan. 

“So you know, there’s a line between negative reporting, tinitira mo (you criticize them), freedom of press. And there’s a line between being a kingmaker and being a kingslayer,” Cayetano said. 

“Sa print at sa social media, bahala kayo kasi karapatan ‘nyo ‘yan. Pero sa radio at TV, especially during times of election, kasama sa Election Code ‘yan at kasama sa prangkisa ‘nyo, you cannot be partisan. You can hit, you can hit very hard, but you cannot be partisan,” he added.

(On print and social media, that’s up to you because that’s your right. But in radio and TV, especially during times of election, this is included in the Election Code and your franchise, so you cannot be partisan. You can hit, you can hit very hard, but you cannot be partisan.)

Losing its franchise bid in the House means ABS-CBN will have to stay off-air unless it eventually gets a fresh franchise under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has long been issuing threats against the network.

Journalists – including those from Rappler and GMA – have slammed the rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise as the latest attack of the Duterte administration on Philippine media. 

Several GMA reporters have been posting messages of solidarity with ABS-CBN on their social media accounts. Rappler also released a statement urging colleagues in the industry to stand with ABS-CBN. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.