Senators slam House vote junking ABS-CBN franchise renewal bid; denounce ‘chilling effect’

Published July 10, 2020, 7:09 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The House of Representatives should have allowed ABS-CBN to correct its shortcomings like what it did to other franchise applicants, Senator Grace Poe said on Friday, July 10.

Seventy congressmen in the House panel favored the shutdown of ABS-CBN, outnumbering the 11 who wanted the network to continue operating. Two inhibited and one abstained.

Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, expressed regret over the House legislative franchises committee’s denial of the broadcast network’s bid for a fresh, 25-year franchise, which came amid the social and economic problems faced by the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic of intolerance has claimed another victim. As a result, thousands of breadwinners will lose their jobs, millions their source of entertainment and information,” she said in a statement.

“ABS-CBN is far from a perfect organization, and has admitted to its many failings. But in its balance sheet of accomplishments, the good it had done for our people are valuable,” she said in a statement.

“The correct – and constitutional – response is to allow it to remedy them, the same chance extended to thousands of franchise applicants,” she added.

“This is so because a media organization that occasionally commits mistakes is in the nation’s interest than one that is permanently muzzled,” she pointed out.

During their hearings, congressmen insisted on the network’s alleged violations even as concerned government agencies have already responded and dismissed their claims. They also spent hours to air their gripes against the firm’s supposed political bias and news coverages.

Poe said the House’s “high and unforgiving” standard in approving congressional permits could also affect existing franchises.

Senators have said that the House committee’s decision could set a “dangerous” precedent on press freedom and democracy.

“Because the government allowed politicking in the process of renewing a legislative franchise and succeeded in the shutting down of a media institution, we have effectively begun to ring the death knell on press freedom in the country,” said opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

“The political persecution of ABS-CBN sends a chilling message to Filipino media practitioners and journalists: toe the line or get shut down. May takot at pagbabanta ang mensaheng inihahatid ng gobyerno: kapag kaaway ka, pwede kang ipasara (The government sends a threat: if you are an enemy, you will be shut down),” she added.

Hontiveros also scored members of the House for choosing to close down the network amid the public health crisis.

“Because officials committed to settle their personal score with ABS-CBN, 11,000 workers are now in danger of losing their jobs and may fail to provide for their families in the near future; all while Filipinos are facing a major economic recession due to the global pandemic,” she said.

“While Filipinos are struggling with an unprecedented public health crisis brought by COVID-19, we have limited their access to life-saving information through the closure of a major media network that services at least 69 million Filipinos,” she lamented.

Hontiveros urged the public to speak out against “this outrageous act of political persecution”.

“At a time when Filipinos are sick, jobless, and hungry, history will judge those who tried to silence the truth. History will be harsh to those who ignored the most basic needs of Filipinos during this pandemic and instead used it to consolidate power for selfish reasons,” she said.