Press corps stand for press freedom as ABS-CBN faces franchise woes

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2020 05:44 PM | Updated as of Feb 13 2020 05:27 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Reporters covering Malacañang, the defense, police, the Senate and business beats stood for press freedom Wednesday in light of government’s move to shut down ABS-CBN Corp by invalidating its franchise.

The Malacañang Press Corps said it would “remain vigilant against attempts to weaponize legal remedies and processes to suppress free expression” after the government’s top lawyer sought to void ABS-CBN’s franchise with a “quo warranto” petition.

“The Malacañang Press Corps stands for the protection of press freedom and right to information, duly enshrined in the constitution. In light of recent developments, particularly to ABS-CBN’s franchise issue, the MPC deplores any attempt to curtail these freedoms, in any way and form,” the organization said.

“Once more, the MPC firmly advocates respect for press freedom as an act of solidarity with ABS-CBN,” it added.

Senate reporters, meanwhile, promised to defend their ABS-CBN colleagues while condemning efforts to shut down the broadcast network.

"We also see these attempts as an insult to the intelligence of the Filipino people, who are constantly bombarded with disinformation that the mainstream media has been trying to fight," Senate reporters said in a statement.

The Defense Press Corps of the Philippines and the PNP Press Corps also voiced out their support for ABS-CBN, calling on Congress to renew the network's franchise.

"We cannot emphasize this enough as seeking to destroy ABS-CBN, an institution in the Philippine media industry, sends a clear warning to the country's fourth estate to carry our message or face annihilation," the defense reporters said.

The PNP Press Corps, for its part, said: "We stand with our fellow media workers at ABS-CBN, we stand for fair treatment and due process, and we stand for freedom of the press."

Members of the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) also called on Congress to "exercise its independence as a co-equal branch of government and commence work on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal to ensure a more dynamic free flow of information" for the benefit of the country's democracy.

In seeking to invalidate ABS-CBN's franchise, Solicitor General Jose Calida accused the company of "highly abusive practices."

ABS-CBN, however, insists it is compliant with laws governing its franchise and has secured necessary permits for its business operations.

"We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law. This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN," the company said.

The Defense Press Corps condemned Calida's attempt "to intrude into a purely legislative power through the Supreme Court."

"Calida's attempt, while an overreach of his office's function, is clearly a move to utilize the country's laws as a tool for harassment and retribution," it said in a statement.

Reporters covering the judiciary also showed their support for ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo, who was singled out by Calida on Monday for supposedly criticizing him.

"We take it as an affront to our constitutional right to report. We believe that such veiled threats to reporters, especially when coming from a government official, have no space in democracy," the Justice and Court Reporters Association (JUCRA) said in a statement.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines have also expressed support for ABS-CBN.

FOCAP said moves to shut ABS-CBN down threaten a pillar of the country's media industry, describing it as a "cornerstone of Philippine democracy and the free press."

ABS-CBN has been the subject of President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades for its supposed failure to air a paid campaign ad before the 2016 presidential elections.

In December, Duterte even urged the owners of ABS-CBN to just sell the company, saying he would "see to it that you're out." But Malacañang on Tuesday distanced itself from Calida's moves, saying "the President has nothing to do with it.

ABS-CBN operates free TV Channel 2 and radio DZMM, while news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.