MANILA — Rejecting ABS-CBN Corp's application for a fresh franchise would bring a chilling effect on press freedom even as Filipinos lose options on where to get information on national issues, a lawmaker said Friday.
"This is also an issue of press freedom. If you close down ABS-CBN, then it leaves just one or 2 who will monopolize the airwaves," Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said, hours before the House franchise committee was expected to vote on the network's license.
"The message will be: kahit gaano ka kalaki, puwede ka naming ipasara (no matter how big you are, we can shut you down)," warned the lawmaker.
A "compelling reason" for the panel to renew the ABS-CBN franchise is "not only so that there would be competition among these networks, but more importantly, to give our people choices," he said.
"'Pag nawala na iyong choices na iyan, babalik tayo doon sa napakadilim na kasaysayan ng ating bayan sa panahon ng diktadurang Marcos, na iyong impormasyon ay nama-manage kung ano lang ang dapat pakinggan," Zarate told ANC.
(If those choices disappear, we will go back the dark history of our nation under the Marcos dictatorship when information was managed when it came to what people should hear.)
"I'm not saying that the other networks will be doing that, but the possibility is there," he added.
ISSUE OF PRESS FREEDOM OR NOT?
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) last month said "putting the squeeze on ABS-CBN is aimed at emasculating the media by holding up the network as an example of the fate that could await other outfits that insist on being true to their watchdog role and maintaining their independence."
The group called on the company's leadership, as well as other news organizations, to "resist these efforts to force media into subservience."
"We call on our colleagues in the community of independent Filipino journalists to close ranks and defend the freedoms and rights that allow us to fulfill our mandate of serving the people's right to know," NUJP said.
But House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday said "this is not press freedom."
"It is the theft of government from the people while hiding under the pretense of press freedom," Critics of ABS-CBN, including Cayetano, had alleged that the Lopez family used the broadcast network to promote certain candidates while attacking others in previous elections.
"Big business, conjoined with commercial media, should not be allowed to engage in partisan politics by wielding its power to protect its interest, meddle and interfere in elections, and surreptitiously support certain candidates in the guise of reporting the news," he said.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The Committee on Legislative Franchises is set to decide on the fate of the largest media network in the Philippines on Friday, said Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante.
Before the crucial House vote, a technical working group (TWG) will "study and draft recommendations" on ABS-CBN's application for a "more systematic and organized consideration" of the issues raised against it during 12 marathon hearings, said Rep. Franz Alvarez, chairman of the franchise committee.
One TWG member is Marikina Second District Rep. Stella Quimbo, an economist who may delve into the impact of ABS-CBN's fate, said Zarate.
The network, among the top taxpayers in the country, paid P71 billion in taxes in the last decade, he noted.
ABS-CBN's closure will also endanger the jobs of its 11,000 workers at a time when millions of Filipinos are unemployed, including migrant workers who used to contribute a third of the gross domestic product, he said.
"In all the issues leveled against ABS-CBN, nothing is compelling enough to deny a new franchise," said Zarate, an author of one of several bills seeking to renew the outfit's license.
"If ang kino-consider natin dito ay ang interes ng ating constituents, ng ating bayan, I don't any reason bakit hindi nila bibigyan ng prangkisa ang ABS-CBN," he added.
(If we are considering the interest of our constituents, the country, I don't see any reason why lawmakers won't give ABS-CBN a franchise.)
— With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News
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