ABS-CBN still has some hope, but it has to eat some humble pie

Published February 21, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin



RJ Nieto

ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise, the primary legal basis for the TV network’s operations, expires on March 30. Some legislators argue that ABS-CBN may still broadcast while its franchise bills are still pending if they can secure a temporary permit from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Press Secretary Bobi Tiglao, in one of his columns, cited the 2003 case “Associated Communications v NTC (G.R. No. 144109),“  where the Supreme Court recognized NTC’s authority to deny requests for temporary permits if the TV firm requesting it has no congressional franchise.

If the Executive Department decides to go by this 2003 case, then ABS-CBN will indeed cease broadcasting on terrestrial TV.

Let’s be clear here: ABS-CBN Corporation will not shut down. Instead, it will only be prevented from broadcasting on terrestrial TV. There’ll be no ABS-CBN shutdown, just a “frequency shutdown.”

ABS-CBN cannot argue curtailment of its “Right to Free Speech” because it will lose only the “Privilege to Broadcast on Terrestrial TV.” If access to a TV frequency is a right, then by virtue of Equal Protection, each Filipino should have access to her own exclusive TV channel, and we know that’s impossible.

Kapamilyas can still talk all they want, albeit without the metaphorical megaphone that is Channel 2.

But there are many ways to skin a cat.

For one, the government’s view on specific statutes may evolve as time passes, and it’s been quite a while since that SC decision was handed down. But it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. The administration, for example, can just stall the implementation of any adverse NTC measure until Congress passes a Franchise Law that will automatically make the franchise issue moot.

I think ABS-CBN can still avoid losing Channel 2, if it will negotiate with the government for a more amicable solution. If the Duterte administration was willing to negotiate with China whom we almost waged war against, I don’t see why the same can’t negotiate with ABS-CBN.

The Duterte administration has shown its aversion to pyrrhic victories as it compromised with more than a few erring economic elites in the past. Thus, I don’t see why it won’t allow ABS-CBN to propose an alternative course of action that may be more beneficial to the public.

But any successful negotiation requires trust, and that’s the problem.

ABS-CBN executives, instead of engaging in acts that encourage trust from the administration, have so far resorted to the usual noise barrage using the same medium that the administration may decide to take away.

Yes, these TV execs may distrust this administration, but they should be reminded that they need the administration’s approval more than the administration needs theirs.

Truth be told, President Duterte doesn’t need ABS-CBN’s approval at all. Despite ABS-CBN’s chronically negative portrayal of this administration, surveys still show that Duterte remains the most popular president in the history of surveys. Besides, it’s not Duterte who needs a legislative franchise, you know.

But the administration is filled with veteran politicians who are well aware of the potential blowback that enforcing a frequency shutdown will entail. It will be messy, possibly even bloody, and it will likely be another major blow at the Duterte administration’s already tattered international reputation.

That’s why I believe there’s a glimmer of hope for ABS-CBN.

In a recent statement, ABS-CBN President and CEO Karlo Lopez Katigbak took a significant step forward when he publicly admitted that ABS-CBN also makes mistakes and that it’s willing to rectify its faults. That’s a great first step, I admit.

However, this will be nothing more than lip service if ABS-CBN’s content and messaging continue to deny what Katigbak just admitted. That’s just being two-faced. That doesn’t encourage trust.

Maybe Katigbak should share some of his humble pie with the rest of his co-workers.

ABS-CBN should acknowledge that it has lost its monopoly over public opinion. It should also realize that the Philippine government has become more resistant to regulatory capture. And most importantly, ABS-CBN must acknowledge the fact the public has become a lot more discerning than ever. Times have changed, and ABS-CBN should stop deluding itself into believing otherwise.

Instead of attacking new entrants, unduly influencing regulators, and obfuscating legitimate issues, ABS-CBN should sincerely start using its resources, most especially the privileges accorded to it by Congress, in the Service of the Filipino.

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