ABS-CBN’s ongoing struggle for franchise renewal

Malou Maniquis of Concerned Artists of the Philippines, reads the position paper signed by nearly 1,000 artists and workers calling on Congress to renew the franchise of TV and radio giant ABS-CBN during the Black Friday protest at the Commission on Human Rights, June 14. (Photo by John Aaron Mark Macaraeg / Bulatlat)


MANILA — The new decade poses possible threat to ABS-CBN as the broadcast corporation’s franchise expiration approaches in less than two months, and with President Duterte’s ongoing tirades against the network’s franchise renewal.

The corporation, whose approaching its 74th year in business and is considered one of the Philippines’ biggest TV networks, has experienced something similar in 1972 when the network was forcefully closed down a day after Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law.

ABS-CBN and its affiliate stations were seized and closed down midnight of September 22, 1972 and Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., the network’s president at that time, was imprisoned for allegedly plotting to kill Marcos.

Related story: Nearly 1K artists, workers urge Congress to renew franchise of ABS-CBN

ABS-CBN was then taken over by Robert Benedicto, a known crony of Marcos, and was renamed as ‘Broadcasting Plaza’ until former ABS-CBN talents’ forceful retrieval on February 24, 1986 at the height of the People Power uprising. The network was then used to televise the mammoth protests that aided in the overthrow of the dictatorship.

The network was then returned back to the ownership of the Lopezes in July 1986.

It seems history tends to repeat itself, as once again, the network is at the forefront of President Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks.

An attack on press freedom

Duterte’s attack against ABS-CBN has been going on since the start of his administration, when the broadcast company allegedly did not air Duterte’s paid campaign in 2016 but instead chose to give the air time to his know-critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes.

The following year, Duterte had called out ABS-CBN, as well as Philippine Daily Inquirer for being “rude” and for writing “unfair news” about him in, going as far as adding expletives and saying that “karma” will surely come to these media entities.

Then in April 2017, Duterte stated that he is open to ‘formally blocking’ the network’s franchise renewal especially since the network had ‘swindled’ him of his 2016 ad. He even went as far as saying that he would be filing a complaint and told the Congress that there was no need to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) had released a statement regarding the matter, urging the Congress to continue being an independent branch and fto renew the network’s franchise.

According to NUJP, almost 11,000 jobs are currently on the line as Duterte continues to be against the network’s franchise renewal. They also appealed to legislators “not allow one man’s vindictiveness displace thousands of workers, including journalists and artists, and spell the end for freedom of the press and of expression.”

Two choices: close down or sell out

It seemed like Duterte’s goals in his attacks against the network had shifted, as he is now pushing the network to sell out.

Months before the network’s franchise renewal, Duterte dropped another threat against ABS-CBN and claimed that it would be better for the network to ‘just sell’ because it is unlikely that the Congress would approve of the franchise renewal.

The real question would be: to who?

It seems like Duterte is pushing for another repeat of Ramon Ang’s buyout of the Inquirer Group of Companies’ major shares from the Prietos, also similar to what happened to the network during the Marcos’ regime and it’s temporary hand-over to Benedicto.

Speculators are betting on Dennis Uy, a Duterte ally who has been steadily growing his business acquisition since 2016.

In 2018, Uy had expanded his business empire to telecommunications after his acquisition of Mislatel, one of the telecommunication firms approved by the House and the Senate to become the third major telco provider in the Philippines.

Mislatel, now rebranded as Dito Telecommunication, is now under Uy’s ISM Communications Corporation.

In 2019, it was then revealed that ISM Communications Corp.’s board has approved to fully interject Uy’s media and entertainment business, and the corporation will be changing its name into Dito CME Holdings Inc.

Because of the sudden rebranding and Duterte’s change of threats against ABS-CBN, speculators are betting on Uy to be the one to buy-out ABS-CBN if ever the Lopezes cave under the Duterte’s continued pressure.

However, Uy had said that there’s currently ‘no definitive plans’ on acquiring ABS-CBN and the Lopezes have yet to signal their intention of selling the network.

ABS-CBN’s franchise was approved through Republic Act No. 7966 on March 30, 1995 and is set to expire this coming March 2020.

Currently, eight bills seeking the franchise extension are being pushed in the House of Representatives plenary despite Duterte’s continued claims that he is vehemently against the corporation’s franchise renewal. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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