By DR. FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
Like many of my colleagues in media, outraged citizens, and fellow framers of the Constitution, I have joined the dissenting voices on the shutdown of ABS-CBN. In a statement, our signatories noted that the NTC’s “Cease and Desist” order came at the worst of times, a time when our country needed to unify our citizens, and when unimpeded communication and independent media are vital. The ABS-CBN network with its widest reach has helped inform and mobilizeour people to put up community defenses against the deadly virus. We cited how the NTC action in the face of the inactivity of Congress, runs contrary to the mandate of Article 16, Section 10 in the Constitutionwhich states that “The State shall provide the policy environment suitable the needs of the nation…balance. .in flow of information…in accordance with a policy that respects freedom of speech and of the press.”
Other provisions which underscore the critical function of media and information are found in Section 24 of Article II, Declaration of Principles: “The State recognizes the vital role of communication and information in nation-building”; Section 7 of Article III, Bill of Rights, “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized”; Section 18 (5), Article XIII, Social Justice and Human Rights, Establish a continuing program of education and information to enhance respect for the primacy of human rights,”; and Sect(4) Article XIV, Education, “Encourage non-formal, informal learning systems that respond to community needs”.
What aggravated an already shocked reaction among many, is that the forced shutdown came two days after the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. It happened at a time when people were in a panic state,anxious about whether the information they get on the pandemic is accurate or fake. Thus, ademand not only fortimely, but accurate and comprehensive reporting.
ABS-CBN, because of its reach, its perceived capacity to deliver information quickly, was a favored source.
But as some observers may have noted, this network with all its advantages, namely, competent, and independent-minded journalists, modern technical and production capabilities, and network of resources, still falls short when it comes to contribution to goals of nation-building.
The first provision highlights concepts ofbalance, free flow, free press, nation’s needs. The rest focus on information’s vital role in nation-building, people’s right to information on public concerns, information and education on primacy of human rights, and education via informal and non-formal channels.
How can we realize such lofty goals when a large percentage of programs is devoted to entertainment which does not stimulate creativity, productivity,or critical thinking?
The NTC is partly to blame or the law that created it, asindeed, it was unable to prevent the occurrence of this negative repercussion.
What did happenwas that various stakeholders started to play the “Blame game.” The President, according to Chief Legal CounselPanelo, had nothing to do with it. It is now in Congress’ hands”, he said in an interview. But some observers believe that the overall responsibility lies with the President.
Rep. EdcelLagmanblames Congress leadership for its inaction as a resolution favoring the renewal of franchise had already been passed. NTCcould have given the network provisional authority especially in the light of the Covid-19. The Action for Economic Reform (AER) denounced the arbitrary “cease and desist” order, saying it is politically motivated.
When the dust settles, we hope that Congresswould think about strengthening NTC instead of abolishing it as suggested by a legislator. Even if we want to, wecan’t, and we shouldn’t. In our information society, it is an imperative to havean agency that would regulate the rapidly growing telecommunication and informationsector. A restructured NTC can be patterned after the Federal Communications Commission, an independent regulatory agency of the US government which, in addition to frequency or spectrum allocation, and licensing, will function to ensure that adiversity of voices and viewpoints is heard and seen.
Regarding the expressed wishes of some that commercial TV networks like ABS-CBN make substantial contribution to nation-building, we hope that this can be realized through a review of program structure of every franchise applicant with the intent of increasing the percentage of development programs in our highly entertainment-oriented media industry.
Such programs would be directed towards goals like looking after the interests of the less advantaged members of society, protection ofsovereignty and promotion of human rights,justice, and cultural heritage. The checklist would include historical dramas, investigative reports, cultural and educational programs that would encourage every Filipino, especially the young to becomemore productive,entrepreneurial; enable one to live with those different from oneself; be respectful of rights of others; be resourceful and not be wasteful; love Nature; be kinder,more cooperative, more compassionate, Stories on how we have evolved as a race, and how we can drawlessons from the past to guide us in the journey to the future. Local variety shows, Talent search and comedy gag shows, and similar genre may remain but they should not dominate the airtime. They should likewisenot dull the viewer to complacency, or dumb him down. Creative artists will be needed tocraft stories that can inspire, mobilize and unite. Television and other forms of mass media can create this reality for us. We may never have this opportunity if we do not seize it now. Those of us who are outraged by the shutdown of ABS-CBN must therefore look beyond seeking the grant of its franchise. Let’s lobby for media freedom, but let’s ask for something in return.
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