Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque tried hard to defend the rejection of ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, claiming it was the "decision of the Filipino people" since they ratified the Constitution that bars a broadcast company from operating without a congressional franchise.
Roque gave the explanation in an interview on DZBB on Friday, July 10, when he was asked for his supposed "calming" message to people who continued to doubt Malacañang's insistence that it had no hand in the decision.
"Well, alam ninyo po, ang taumbayan naman talaga po ang pinagmulan ng binding effect; ng legal effect ng ating Saligang Batas. Ang taumbayan ang nagdesisyon po na hindi pupuwedeng magnegosyo sa isang broadcast industry na walang prangkisa na inaprubahan ng representante ng taumbayan," he said.
(Well, you know, the binding effect; the legal effect of our Constitution emanated from the Filipino people. It is the people who decided that one cannot operate in the broadcast industry without a franchise approved by the representatives of the people.)
Roque also reiterated that a majority of the members in the House committee on legislative franchise were behind the vote.
"Pero sa ngayon po, iyan po ang desisyon ng representante ng taumbayan, iyan po ay desisyon ng taumbayan. Hayaan na po muna natin at hintayin natin ang husga ng taumbayan doon sa mga representante kung mayroon man," he said on Friday, July 10, in an interview with DZBB.
(For now, that is the decision of the representatives of the people, that is the decision of the people. So let's wait for the judgement of the people on their representatives, if there will be any.)
The House of Representatives is dominated by allies of Duterte and its panel made its decision on ABS-CBN under the cloud of the President's persistent threats against the network and other media organizations. (FALSE: Duterte 'completely neutral' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal)
In 2022, voters will have an opportunity to choose who will replace these lawmakers in the lower chamber.
Aside from this, the rejection of ABS-CBN's franchise was met with widespread condemnation from many civil society groups, academic institutions, press groups, other lawmakers, and more. (READ: Personal grudges, interests prevailed in rejection of ABS-CBN franchise – academics)
In the same interview, Roque said that a franchise is required for ABS-CBN journalists to be free to exercise their rights.
"Malinaw na kung mayroong prangkisa na nire-require ang Saligang Batas para doon sa kalayaan ng malayang pamamahayag na nakalagay sa Saligang Batas ay kinakailangang magkaroon muna ng prangkisa bago ka magkaroon ng kalayaan," said Roque.
(It's clear that if the Constitution requires a franchise for freedom of the press, then there needs to a franchise before you can have that freedom.)
But the Constitution clearly states that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press. A franchise is merely required for an entity to use broadcast frequencies.
This means ABS-CBN's journalists must still be allowed to pursue their work whether or not they have a franchise to use frequencies.
'No chilling effect'?
Roque also disputed the assertion of press groups, civil society groups, and lawmakers that the thumbing down of a new ABS-CBN license has a "chilling effect" on free speech and critical reporting.
The Duterte spokesman said this can't be so, supposedly because ABS-CBN is mostly engaged in "entertainment" and not news.
"Hindi po ako naniniwala sa chilling effect, dahil unang-una, ang negosyo naman po talaga ng ABS-CBN ay hindi naman full time balita, kung hindi ito po ay entertainment," said Roque.
(I don't believe in the chilling effect because first of all, the business of ABS-CBN isn't full-time news but entertainment.)
His basis for saying this was that shows like "Ang Probinsyano" and "Showtime" are the broadcast giant's "top grossers." But he admitted that primetime news show TV Patrol has many viewers.
However, even non-news shows are protected by the Constitution as free speech. Also, the rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise covers both its entertainment content and much of its news and public affairs operations.
Media groups and journalists, including the Malacañang Press Corps assigned to cover the presidency, have decried the rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal as "state-backed oppression." (READ: PH journalists slam rejection of ABS-CBN franchise: 'History is never kind to tyrants') – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.