MANILA- The decision of a House of Representatives' panel to kill the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp has a chilling effect on press freedom, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Saturday.
This, as the rights body asserted that allegations of violation against ABS-CBN should have been settled in the court of law, and that the network should have been treated fairly as how the chamber dealt with other franchise applications.
The House franchise committee on Friday junked ABS-CBN's franchise bid in a 70-11 vote, fulfilling President Rodrigo Duterte's oft-repeated promise to yank the network off the air.
"It is with concern that the Commission on Human Rights notes the denial of the franchise of ABS-CBN, the biggest broadcasting media outlet in the country," the CHR said in a statement.
"Unless Congress can disabuse the minds of the public that its decision was not based on a fair review and was devoid of any political consideration, the denial of the franchise, gives a chilling effect on the freedom of the press," it said.
ABS-CBN, the country's largest media network, was shut down on May 5, a day after its broadcast license expired. Other firms had been allowed to continue broadcast despite expired franchises while their renewal applications were pending in Congress.
"In the end, allegations of violations should have been dealt [with] in accordance with existing laws. And the same standard that was used for ABS-CBN should have been consistent with the rest of the franchise applications. Otherwise, this puts in question the rule of law fundamental in protecting rights and instead shows a rule by law—devoid of fairness and justice," the CHR said.
It said the decision "impacts greatly on the work of media as purveyor of free speech and information."
The commission, which ensures protection of people's rights and investigates wrongdoing, cited how the rejection of ABS-CBN's franchise application affects the public, which heavily relies on the network for timely information.
"CHR continues to stress the importance of timely, credible information in pushing everyone towards the correct direction in responding especially to a pandemic. The loss of a major network has inevitably left millions of Filipinos in the dark, especially those in far-flung areas with no access to the internet as an alternative," it said.
It also cited the impact on the over 11,000 ABS-CBN workers who face uncertainty in the middle of a pandemic that has already caused economic contraction.
"The thousands of workers confronted with the sudden loss of jobs also adds to the number of the struggling population who continues to suffer from loss of livelihood due to the extended lockdowns," it said.