MANILA (UPDATED) - Journalism educators on Wednesday called out a congressional leader over his allegations against ABS-CBN, warning that committee hearings on its application for a new broadcast franchise might be used to spread fake news against it.
Many of the accusations made by House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta must be “fact-checked,” such as the network’s supposedly tax liabilities, said professor Felipe Salvosa II, who heads the UST journalism program.
Marcoleta on Tuesday made a case against granting a new franchise to ABS-CBN, noting that many of the issues against the network had been circulating online.
“It’s like saying something is true because you watched it on YouTube or read it on Wikipedia,” said Danilo Arao, a journalism professor at the University of the Philippines.
"Unfortunately Rep. Marcoleta is not acting like an informed legislator but simply an internet troll who is just simply trying to mouth certain words and trying to make sense of them by putting words into a sentence."
“The biggest piece of fake news” Marcoleta presented at the hearing claimed that ABS-CBN should no longer be allowed on the air because because broadcast franchises were limited to 50 years, said Vergel Santos, a trustee at the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
But the period referred to a specific grant, which can be renewed, he said.
“Look at what Marcoleta is putting out—false news, fake news,” he told ABS-CBN News.
ABS-CBN's corporate life can be extended by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Salvosa said. It was last extended in 1994, he added.
Marcoleta accused ABS-CBN of tax avoidance, unfair labor practices, and violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership in mass media—which had been clarified in the past, particularly during a Senate hearing last Feb. 24.
"All of these things could be validly a subject of legislation. If he's complaining of tax loopholes, violation of labor laws then his job is to introduce amendments to these laws so companies would not be violating legal provisions," Salvosa said.
"But this is a franchise hearing. To include other extraneous issues betrays their agenda basically."
Salvosa added that the public should be “more discerning” over the congressman’s allegations, which would be discussed in detail in subsequent joint hearings by the committees on good government and legislative franchises.
“I think the objective here is to extract political and even economic concessions from ABS-CBN. That’s their real agenda,” he told ANC’s Matters of Fact, describing the issues as a “rehash.”
Santos said the hearings put the network “at the mercy” of congressmen, who are exclusively empowered by law to decide on broadcast franchises.
“Anytime they wish, they can seize the floor of Congress and discourse to their heart’s content against anyone,“ he said.
“The press is so mismatched against the government,” he added.
On Tuesday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano told congressmen to tackle ABS-CBN’s franchise application “with an open mind,” urging both supporters and critics of the network to present their case before the committee.
“We will listen to the facts as they are presented and weigh the opinions as they are given,” he said during the hearing.
“But we will not be bullied, we will not be threatened, we will not be ignored nor manipulated by anyone from doing our duty, from doing what is right.”
For his part, Rep. Franz Alvarez, chairman of the legislative franchises committee, acknowledged the pressure on the lower chamber to decide on the franchise application “fairly.”
“The whole country will be watching and if this committee does not do a good job, it’s not only the network but the entire Congress that will be judged,” he said at the start of the hearing.
“The Filipino people expect us to do our job fairly and without bias toward any party.”
ABS-CBN was forced to halt its broadcast operations on May 5 after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) went back on its commitment to allow ABS-CBN to operate beyond its lapsed franchise.
The network, which has some 11,000 workers, has asked the Supreme Court to block the NTC's cease-and-desist order.
The high court ordered the telecoms body and both chambers of Congress to respond to the ABS-CBN's petition.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.