MANILA - Fear to publish stories critical of the government has swept newsrooms in the Philippines a year after ABS-CBN’s broadcast shutdown, a real and clear manifestation of the “chilling effect” that media experts had warned of, the head of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said on Saturday.
CMFR Executive Director Melinda Quintos de Jesus said denying the franchise bid of the country’s then-biggest network led to more stories untold and media outfits becoming more careful in reporting sensitive stories.
"The chilling effect is real… There are no longer investigative teams... partly because of the fear that has taken over the newsrooms. If something happens like this to the biggest player in the field, you cannot but expect others to say that 'it can happen to them, it will happen to us,’” De Jesus said in an interview on ANC.
"The damage is real... not just on the news practice but also on the effect of what and how news used to be," she added.
ABS-CBN’s franchise bid was killed by 70 House lawmakers exactly a year ago despite allegations disproven in hearings.
Thousands of employees have been retrenched due to the House panel's decision, which came amid the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
De Jesus said more than losing a platform for information and entertainment, Filipinos also witnessed the erosion of liberties such as immediate access to the press because of the ABS-CBN broadcast shutdown, which prompted the network to shutter its regional stations.
Despite the franchise denial’s impact on press freedom, she urged journalists and newsmakers to unite and carry on and continue fighting for what is left.
“That press freedom is dependent only on the numbers that still want to come forward and speak up... A divided newsroom becomes a weaker newsroom. A divided media community also becomes a weaker media community," she said.
"Media operates not for its own good but for the good of the people. You get more news out there if media is courageous and unafraid, then you also have a people sovereign enough, confident enough that they are the power and that government must be afraid of how they would make these decisions when they can express these decisions."
One year since its free TV and radio shutdown, ABS-CBN has migrated many of its operations to the digital world where it continues to pioneer innovations.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.