PH journalists slam rejection of ABS-CBN franchise: 'History is never kind to tyrants'

The Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) and other Philippine journalists slammed what they called the "blatant and arrogant abuse of power" of lawmakers who rejected the franchise renewal of media giant ABS-CBN.

“We deplore the blatant and arrogant abuse of power. This is a warning to the press: Do not offend the powers that be. One less watchdog is one step towards tyranny,” the MPC said in a statement. 

They said the attack on ABS-CBN has made them even “more emboldened to carry the torch to carry out our mission to inform the public and keep power in check.”

“A thousand little cuts do not make us weak, these make us stronger. History is never kind to tyrants,” the MPC said. 

They also grieved for the thousands of ABS-CBN employees who stand to lose their jobs.  “We stand in solidarity in their fight against this state-backed repression of private media,” the group said.

They stressed that the country needs more media organizations “not less, to inform the public of the dangers and risks of COVID-19 and how the government is responding to the crisis, and to make them accountable for their missteps."

While Malacañang repeatedly insisted that it "maintained a neutral stance" on the issue out of respect for the separation of powers, President Rodrigo Duterte's attacks against the network – including a fearless prediction back in December 2019 that it would be shuttered – showed otherwise. (FALSE: Duterte 'completely neutral' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal)

Call to unity

Philippine Daily Inquirer reporters said in a statement that the House panel’s decision has exposed “the pitfalls of cowering before tyrannical leaders who show no respect for free speech and freedom of the press, but instead exert every effort, fair or foul, to bring the free and independent press to its knees for selfish and vindictive reasons.” 

“They conveniently shut their eyes to the true role of a free press: an institution duty-bound to ferret out the truth, while lifting up the marginalized sectors of society,” PDI reporters said in a statement. 

They also stressed that journalists are never de facto publicists of politicians but are watchdogs of the government and the society. (READ: Personal grudges, interests prevailed in rejection of ABS-CBN franchise – academics)

"July 10, 2020, will be remembered by journalists and all freedom-loving Filipinos as the day when the light of reason lost to wicked interests and political machinations within the walls of Congress," the PDI reporters said.

"Now, more than ever, journalists are called upon to unite against state entities trampling on the people’s right to know. We stand with ABS-CBN in sorrow and solidarity. We will soldier on," they added.

'House of minions'

The Defense Press Corps of the Philippines also denounced the House panel’s decision, saying it was “based solely on personal antipathy towards the network.”

“In denying ABS-CBN’s franchise, the lower house of Congress resembles a house of minions and not of true representatives of the people,” the group said. 

“In our view, the House of Representatives has done a disservice to their consituents and the entire nation, placing their own sentiments above the Filipinos’ constitutionally-guaranteed right to information and allowing themselves to be used in muzzling the free press from speaking often unpalatable truths,” it added. 

The Justice and Court Reporters Association (JUCRA) criticized the decision as a "brazen assault on press freedom" by the very people who are tasked to make laws.

"We are taught in law that to restrict the freedom of expression, it must pass the clear and present danger test. What happened on July 10, 2020, was a brazen assault on press freedom which only shows that those we elect to make our laws can be the clear and present danger to the rights granted to us by our Constitution," JUCRA said.

JUCRA noted that the people who are insisting that the franchise application is not related to press freedom are the “same people who used the platform entrusted to them by the electorate to vilify ABS-CBN and bully its journalists into playing nice.”

“Allies of the administration sought to create an enemy out of ABS-CBN by attacking its reporting – their fears of 'biased journalism' so imagined it scared only them,” group added. 

The House of Representatives conducted a total of 13 hearings on the franchise bills. During one of these hearings, lawmakers discussed the alleged “biased” reporting of the network and grilled ABS-CBN executives over their coverages of the 2016 elections, Dengvaxia issue, and even the ongoing franchise hearings. 

“The message was loud and clear: if you don’t toe the line, you are next,” JUCRA said.

“That they can do this to the largest television network in the country, with 11,000 jobs on the line, and in the full view of the Filipino people and the world, is also a clear sign. That the evil consequence of our leaders’ power play is extremely serious, and the imminence of that evil is extremely high. They are the clear and present danger," the group added. 

JUCRA vowed to "fight back, not just for ABS-CBN, but for the right to be free from the shackles of oppressors."

'Help safeguard press freedom'

The Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) said that the decision of the House committee has dire implications on Filipino’s constitutionally guaranteed right to a free press. 

“ABS-CBN’s broadcasts play a crucial role in bringing news to areas that are beyond the reach of the internet, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic when the timely dissemination of information is necessary to protect public health,” EJAP said in a statement. 

The business journalists said that what aggravates the situation is that over 11,000 employees and adjunct workers of the company stand to lose their jobs during the pandemic that has aleady cranked up the country's unemployment rate. 

EJAP said it stands in solidarity with ABS-CBN and called on fellow journalists, stakeholders, and the Filipino people “to help safeguard the freedom of the press during these dark days.” 

The journalists joined other media groups, including Rappler, and various sectors in condemning the rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal as a huge blow to press freedom and democracy.

Many Filipinos online and offline vowed to remember those responsible for the rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal in the next elections. – Rappler.com

 

Jene-Anne Pangue

Jene-Anne Pangue is a community and civic engagement specialist of MovePH, Rappler’s civic engagement arm. Her involvement with Rappler started when she became a mover in 2014 and an intern in 2015. Since then, she learned the importance of building communities of action for social good as she continues to work with movers and doers across the country.

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