Franchise renewal of ABS-CBN not a press freedom issue – Cayetano
MANILA, Philippines — The case of media giant ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal “has not, nor has it ever been, purely an issue of free speech or freedom of the press,” House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said Monday night.
In a Facebook post, Cayetano addressed arguments that the pending renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise was an attack on the freedom of the press.
He explained that, if ABS-CBN were a purely online content provider or a traditional printed newspaper, it would not need a franchise from the government to be able to operate.
Republic Act No. 3846 requires television and radio broadcasting companies to secure a franchise from the government before they are allowed to operate. It is Congress that will decide whether to extend the franchise to public utilities, such as the media.
“This clearly shows that this matter has not, nor has it ever been, purely an issue of free speech or freedom of the press,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano then said that when corporations, particularly those that use broadcast frequencies which are deemed to be resources owned by the people, abuse their franchise, the government “cannot justify the abuse of the franchise simply because it entertains the masses.”
“The franchise is not a license to do anything that they desire with their airtime – including manipulation, disinformation, and deception,” Cayetano said.
The House Speaker then turned to ABS-CBN’s coverage of the 2010 and 2016 elections.
“Can anyone honestly say, after watching the coverage of the network during the 2010 and 2016 elections, that ABS-CBN did not take sides and favor any candidate? Or that personalities and politicians who through the years have had a strong affinity with the station do not receive undue advantage during campaign season?” Cayetano said.
According to him, this move is prohibited by the Fair Elections Act.
When Cayetano broke his silence on the issue, he advised ABS-CBN to do some soul-searching to reflect on “how we have all reached this point.”
“I did my own soul searching, and while I cannot imagine a Philippines without an ABS-CBN, I also cannot countenance a democracy where a private corporation like ABS-CBN is allowed to use the airwaves to influence our choices in the elections for their favored candidates,” Cayetano said.
The House Speaker reiterated that hearings in Congress to tackle the issue would be conducted “at the appropriate time.”
He also asked where was the clamor when similar bills on ABS-CBN’s franchise were filed in the 16th Congress under the Aquino administration.
Cayetano said that there were also more urgent matters to be discussed in the 18th Congress such, as the Marawi rehabilitation, the spread of the coronavirus disease, the eruption of Taal, and the earthquakes in Mindanao.
“It is primarily for this reason that we do not see the urgency of a hearing at this point,” Cayetano said.
“It will be tedious, contentious, and it threatens to drain the momentum that has allowed the 18th Congress to accomplish so much — including the historic early passage of the 2020 General Appropriations Act, the Salary Standardization Law for Nurses and Teachers, the Malasakit Centers Act, and many other landmark legislation,” he added.
Cayetano said that there are also other measures that need to be prioritized, such as the creation of the Department for Overseas Filipino Workers, the Department of Disaster Management, and the Department of Water; the improvement of the K to 12 program; the improvement of the national health preparedness; and the strengthening of the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.
“As the leader of the House, I disagree with the rush to judgment, whether in favor or against the renewal. And I will stand by this decision,” Cayetano said.
“Pressure us to do what is right regardless if it is popular or unpopular. But do not pressure us to do what is expedient for the sake of being popular. Congress is the wrong chamber for that,” he added.
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