Journalists, advocates call on Filipinos to back ABS-CBN franchise renewal
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and other groups on Monday, February 10, called on the public to help defend press freedom and support the franchise renewal of embattled broadcast network ABS-CBN.
Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition against the media company, asking the justices to cancel its franchise.
The petition came a little over a month before the franchise of ABS-CBN, granted by Congress, expires. Claiming it did not run his political ads during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly warned the company that its franchise will be revoked, even taunting management to just sell. (READ: Timeline: Duterte against ABS-CBN's franchise renewal)
“This proves without a doubt that this government is hellbent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network whose franchise renewal...So much so that it would risk trampling on Congress' authority to legislate franchises,” NUJP said.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) also denounced the move. "Our ABS-CBN colleagues have been on the frontlines of every major breaking news in the country. They have chronicled history, and continue to hold power to account," Focap said.
"We call on Congress to act independently. We call on our Supreme Court Justices to side with the people’s right to truthful and independent news, the Constitution and democracy," it added.
The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) raised the same concerns, saying the petition highlights how the government goes to great lengths to silence critical voices in media. UP CMC added that the attacks are reminiscent of the pre-Martial Law era, which sought to undermine media's independence and ability to report on government's actions and hold public officials accountable.
It recounted how in recent years, the Philippines has witnessed multiple tactics from the government to attack the media – from the legal harassment of ABS-CBN and Rappler to the spread of false claims against groups such as Vera Files.
The journalism faculty of the University of Santo Tomas, meanwhile, described Calida's attempt to close down a franchise through a quo warranot petition as a "novel theory...with pandemic consequences on the people's right to know."
They also slammed efforts by the Duterte administration to frame their attacks against the press as legal questions.
Infrawatch PH, an infrastructure-oriented thinktank, pointed out that Calida’s complaints, especially concerning ABS-CBN's use of Philippine Depository Receipts, can be resolved in franchise renewal proceedings in Congress.
“Ignorance, if not grasping for relevance, is the only explanation for this petition,” said Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also slammed the petition. "Filipinos and advocates of press freedom should reject this move and assert their right to a free press," asserted HRW researcher Carlos Conde.
The Freedom for Media, Freedom for All (FMFA), a national coalition of media-oriented organizations, also called out the Duterte administration for its "hallmark" hostility to news organizations and journalists.
FMFA urged journalists, news organizations, and Filipinos to show a collective front to continue defending people's right to a free press in light of attempts to close down ABS-CBN.
"To silence even just one source of news and information is an attack against all citizens.... Media freedom is not a sectoral concern but a larger social good, its vigor and strength benefit all," FMFA said in its statement.
Siding with their fellow reporter, Justice and Court Reporters Association (JUCRA) condemned Calida's actions toward ABS-CBN reporter Michael Jobert Navallo during the filing of the quo warranto petition.
Instead of presenting his side, Calida accused Navallo of persecuting him and urged him to "practice law" instead of journalism. Navallo is a lawyer.
"We believe that such veiled threats to reporters, especially when coming from a government official, have no space in a democracy," JUCRA said.
The Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines also warned that the slightest trace of political persecution "undermines the dynamism that makes democracy the most desirable form of governance for Filipinos."
NUJP called on Congress and the Supreme Court to uphold their duty as independent and co-equal branches of government that are not at the beck and call of the executive.
“We must not allow the vindictiveness of one man, no matter how powerful, to run roughshod over the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press and of expression, and the people's right to know,” NUJP said in a statement.
Reminding the public of the upcoming anniversary of the 1986 EDSA revolution this month, the UP CMC asked Filipinos ensure that the freedoms regained 34 years ago will remain.
"Government actions such as [the filing of the quo warranto petition] show us the volatility of this hard-won freedom, the need to remain vigilant so as to not allow history repeat itself," it said.
As many as 11,000 jobs are on the line in a possible ABS-CBN closure.
The NUJP has been holding weekly Friday protests to call on the government to renew the franchise. It's also leading a signature campaign against the ABS-CBN shutdown, which will be submitted to Congress for review. – Rappler.com