MANILA -- An administration congressman urged his colleagues Monday to start deliberations on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, as supporters from media warned that efforts to shut down the news company were an “attack on press freedom.”
Congress has only 22 session days left to decide whether to extend the franchise for another 25 years, said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who filed one of at least 8 bills seeking to keep ABS-CBN on air. The franchise is set to expire on March 30.
“Time is of the essence,” he said in a statement. “It is not proper not to act on my bill and the other bills.”
Rodriguez, a member of the majority, said the legislature “should always uphold the constitutional mandate... to ensure freedom of the press.”
The Cagayan de Oro lawmaker cited ABS-CBN's corporate social responsibility projects, including the late Gina Lopez's Bantay Bata 163, Bantay Kalikasan and Kapit Bisig Para Sa Ilog Pasig projects.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly complained about ABS-CBN’s reporting, including its failure to air a political ad of his during the 2016 campaign.
Last month, the president also told owners, in a televised speech, to just sell ABS-CBN.
“Yung nangyayari sa ABS-CBN is an attack on press freedom. It’s ABS-CBN now. Sino pa kaya ang susunod sa malapit na hinaharap?” journalism professor Danilo Arao said in a Manila forum.
(What's happening to ABS-CBN is an attack on press freedom. It's ABS-CBN now. Who's next in the near future?)
How the press and the public at large will react to government pressure on ABS-CBN’s franchise will provide an “important test,” said journalist Vergel Santos, former chairman of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
“Tanungin ninyo ang inyong sarili. Anong gagawin natin dito? (Ask yourselves. What do we do now?)” he said in the forum, noting Filipinos lost their “almost instinctive moral exercise” to protest whenever basic freedoms came under threat.
Malacañang maintains that press freedom is not at stake in ABS-CBN's franchise renewal.
There are 8 bills seeking an extension of ABS-CBN's franchise. There are also other bills seeking to grant fresh franchises to its cable TV, UHF free TV, and data services as these will expire in March 2020, July 2020, and June 2022, respectively.
The House committee on legislative franchises earlier said it would soon schedule hearings on the ABS-CBN bills, and that deliberations would be fair.
News.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.
-- with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News