Since February, ABS-CBN has been in an ongoing battle to stop the government from shutting them down. The network’s 25-year franchise, which is a government-approved contract that allows its operations, was supposed to end on Mar. 30.
On Feb. 10, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition to the Supreme Court to immediately revoke the network’s franchise for alleged unethical business practices and foreign ownership.
Around the same time, Rep. Franz Alvarez and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano sent a letter to the National Telecommunications Communication (NTC) to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate effective on May 4 “until such time that the House of Representatives/Congress has made a decision on its application.”
Cayetano has also said on numerous occasions that the franchise renewal was “not that urgent.”
On Mar. 10, the NTC said they would allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while the franchise renewal bid was still pending in Congress. A total of 11 bills were pending with the House committee on legislative franchises to renew ABS-CBN for another 25 years. Some were filed as early as 2016.
But last night, May 5, a day after ABS-CBN’s franchise had expired, the NTC filed a cease-and-desist to stop the network from operating its television and radio broadcasting nationwide. Those who were watching the last few minutes of broadcast saw the words “Signing off” as their screens went dark.
On social media, netizens posted about the shutdown and offered support to the 11,000 workers who lost their jobs with the hashtag #NoToABSCBNShutdown and #DefendPressFreedom. Reporters shared clips of a somber newsroom seconds after going off-air; some also shared stories about how their parents asked them, “Paano na ang trabaho ninyo?”
The last time ABS-CBN was shut down was when former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos attained full control of all media outlets as part of the 1972 Martial Law.
The Philippines is not under Martial Law now. We are in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’ve worked in the media and publishing industry, you probably know the feeling of being scared for your job—worst, your life—just because you reported on the news. I’d be lying if I said the thought never crossed my mind, especially since my first year in journalism started almost two years after the Maguindanao massacre where 58 people, including 32 journalists were murdered under the order of the Ampatuan clan. The dread was still there when Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was arrested twice.
I can’t imagine what the thousands of ABS-CBN workers must’ve felt when they found out that the network was being shut down. Then again, you don’t have to be part of the network or be a journalist to know what it feels like to lose your livelihood and not be able to provide for your families (during a pandemic and recession, no less).
But the issue goes way beyond the delay of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.In the past, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte had threatened ABS-CBN, saying he won’t allow them to renew their franchise on the grounds of alleged biased reporting and for not airing his presidential campaigns in 2016. But in an ANC interview on May 6, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that Duterte is “neutral” on the issue.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that President Rodrigo Duterte is "neutral" on the issue of #ABSCBNfranchise and emphasized that the chief executive cannot intervene with the decision of the NTC. pic.twitter.com/x20iF2vZFA
One of the main things I learned from my journalism mentors in college and at work is that it is our duty to objectively report on the news and back it up with verified information. I also know that many media workers, especially those in the government beats, are putting their lives on the line. Why should they be punished for doing their jobs while peddlers of fake news are still at large?
To reiterate the UST’s journalism educators’ statement, only dictators would shut down the free press. During Martial Law, Marcos attained full control of media outlets that were critical of his administration. The Duterte administration may have denied that they will implement Martial Law, but the president’s threats have always popped up. (The most recent was last Apr. 25.)
Now, more than ever, the media should remain vigilant and live up to our role as purveyors of truth. The last few months have been tough on all of us because of COVID-19 coverage, as well as keeping track of the government’s activities. But we must persevere to provide accurate information for the Filipino people.
As citizens, continue holding the government accountable. Express your disdain for how it’s mistreating your countrymen. It’s easier said than done, but we shouldn’t let fear and threats stop us from demanding basic human rights.
Lastly, tell the truth, especially when the government tries to silence your voice.