Why ABS-CBN franchise, press freedom are election issues

Additional research by James Buates and Kaila Marie Alforte
Graphics by Arvin James Luna

MANILA — As Filipinos celebrate the 36th year since they toppled a dictatorship, journalists here said the issue of the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise is an election issue that presidential aspirants should look into.

“It is one of the most pressing attacks on press freedom under this administration,” Jonathan de Santos, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, told Bulatlat in a phone interview.

Critics have long said that the ABS-CBN shutdown is reminiscent of the martial law years of the conjugal Marcos dictatorship as it was also put off the air.  This time, the shutting of the country’s biggest media conglomerate stems from a personal vendetta, with President Rodrigo Duterte saying that “I will see to it that you’re out” over purported campaign ads that were not aired during his election campaign.

Meanwhile, De Santos noted that since the shutdown, many far-flung communities that rely on ABS-CBN no longer have access to vetted information.

“Where are (candidates) in this fight? Are they going to continue acting against ABS-CBN?” De Santos said.

As it stands, presidential candidates Vice President Leni Robredo, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, and unionist Leody de Guzman, along with their respective vice-presidential aspirants, have expressed positive pronouncements in supporting the franchise renewal.

Meanwhile, presidential candidates Sen. Panfilo Lacson, former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Manila Mayor Francisco ‘Isko Moreno’ Domagoso have instead left it to the hands of lawmakers.

During the dictatorship of Marcos Sr., his first Letter of Instruction ordered the closure of all newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.

Read: How the mosquito press fought the disinformation under Marcos

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who is running for vice president, is the daughter of President Duterte who pushed for the shut down of ABS-CBN.

De Santos said the issue of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal is not just about one company but the whole of the news media sector. Its shutdown is an attempt to send a message that if journalists will remain critical and do not follow their narrative, “you are next,” he added.

Barred from coverage?

With the elections at hand, the NUJP has also earlier noted that journalists have been barred from reporting a campaign trail in Ilocos Sur last week.

De Santos told Bulatlat that he considers this “does not send a good signal” as to how those running for public office will engage with the media once they win the elections. Journalists, he added, are labeled as biased and that public officials now prefer to talk in venues or forums where it appears to be friendly.

The NUJP has also documented journalist killings, harassment, and cyber-attacks against online news outfits with the elections looming.

“It is not our work to be friendly or to please a candidate,” he said, adding that the point of the coverage is to serve the people’s right to know.

Continuing the fight

De Santos said the parallelism of the ABS-CBN shutdown then by Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and how it continues to be without a franchise with another Marcos running for public office is indubitable.

He said that after the Filipino people toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, many must have thought that the fight is over.

He said, “we are not a new generation of (press freedom advocates). We are just continuing their fight.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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