MANILA - Personal grievances of lawmakers over ABS-CBN's editorial coverage should not be used to settle a score against the network's bid for a fresh legislative franchise, a global watchdog said Monday.
"It's not the job of Congress, of the Senate to try to determine whether ABS-CBN, for instance, has covered, you know, issues fairly. It's not their job," Carlos Conde, Asia researcher of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told ANC's "Headstart."
"The job of the franchise committee is to extend the franchise based on their assessment, or the NTC [National Telecommunications Commission], the government's assessment of ABS-CBN's conduct directly relating to the franchise," he added.
Some 11 bills seeking an extension of ABS-CBN's franchise, which is set to expire on March 30, 2020, remain pending in Congress.
The public should be the one to decide if ABS-CBN, which operates free TV Channel 2 and radio DZMM, had been fair in its editorial coverage.
"To try to use these complaints, no matter how valid they are, to try to influence the issuance of the franchise, that's what makes it really egregious. That's what makes it really problematic," Conde said.
Threatening to block the franchise renewal of the media giant by deferring committee hearings and filing a quo warranto petition to invalidate its license, which Conde considers a one-two punch move by the government, is an attack on press freedom.
"Ultimately, this issue is about how the public will support press freedom. It's non-negotiable. Either you have it or you don't. People say in the Philippines you can still have press freedom, which is true. Anybody can say anything in this milieu right now," Conde said.
He added, "But they are not talking about what happens after you said that. What happens after you are critical. Look what happened to [news website] Rappler. What happens when you do your job properly, look what happens to ABS-CBN. What happens when you criticize a mayor, governor or drug lord. You look at how many journalists in the provinces have been killed in the past for how many years."
Conde warned that ABS-CBN and its thousands of employees who may stand to lose their livelihoods should prepare for the worst.
"Given the popularity of this President, given the fact his party controls the Congress, the possibilities are endless for this government to shut down ABS-CBN," he said.
He added, "The government has shown, the Solicitor General [Jose Calida] has shown, they have the capacity and the willpower to try to bend the law according to their wishes. I'm sorry to say they're gonna be doing that in the case of ABS-CBN."