Lagman warns ABS-CBN to become ‘docile hostage’ as franchise renewal pends
MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker on Friday warned that media giant ABS-CBN risks of becoming a “docile hostage” as the renewal of its franchise, which is set to expire on May 4, continues to pend in the House of Representatives.
Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, said the House leadership seems to be enforcing neutrality on the beleaguered network’s coverage for intimating that hearings on bills seeking its franchise renewal will continue beyond the 2022 presidential elections.
“The more this renewal pends, the more ABS-CBN will be a docile hostage waiting to the renewal of its franchise. I hope it does not become such hostage, but apparently realities will show [that] the hands of ABS-CBN are tied,” he said.
“After this franchise has been set for deliberation, the next question is when will the hearings end? And how would these hearings end because the Speaker [Alan Peter Cayetano] previously intimated that the hearings could still be after the 2022 presidential and general elections,” he said.
“The purpose there is, according to the Speaker, in order that ABS-CBN will be neutral, will not take sides and will not interfere in the elections,” he added.
Lagman said this would derogate the freedom of the press and expression.
“The right of a network to broadcast critical statements or to have a reasonable preference is part of the freedom of the press and expression and there should be no enforced neutrality or absolute neutrality because that will be against freedom of the press and expression and other parts of the law,” he said.
“Let’s go to the basic and that is the franchise of ABS-CBN, what does it say? It is just prohibited from airing or broadcasting of obscene and indecent language or acts. It is prohibited from deliberately misinforming the public. And also it is prohibited from encouraging or inciting seditious acts or treasonous acts,” he explained.
With this, Lagman pointed out that the “latitude of press freedom should be observed” so long as the network does not violate the law.
‘Very limited proceedings’
“When we come back in May, the expiration of the franchise of ABS-CBN is on May 4. So, definitely, there would be no franchise renewed by that time,” he said.
Lagman was also not optimistic that Congress would hold a special session to tackle the franchise renewal of the network.
“That is a theoretical possibility but I don’t think it’s a real possibility that to the House and the Senate will have a special session just for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise,” he said.
“I dont think that will happen. It’s definite by the time we come back from the Lenten break the franchise of ABS-CBN will not be acted upon,” he added.
Cayetano earlier announced that the House of Representatives will finally start tackling bills seeking to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN on March 10.
But Lagman said this would be “very limited proceedings.”
Congress will go on a break on March 12 and will resume its session on May 4, the same day the franchise of ABS-CBN expires.
“The proceedings with respect to the 11 bills proposing for the extension of the franchise of ABS-CBN will start on Tuesday, March 10. But that’s only one day,” he said.
“It is a very limited proceeding because it will center principally, as mentioned by the Speaker, on the instructions to NTC [National Telecommunications Commission] to grant ABS-CBN and its affiliates and subsidiaries provisional authority to operate,” he added.
The lower chamber earlier asked the NTC, through a letter, to allow the continued operation of the network while Congress is tackling its franchise renewal bill.