Philippine media united in support of ABS-CBN

File photo of protest against closure of ABS-CBN. Photo by Basilio H. Sepe of ABS-CBN News.


It is heartening to see members media in the country come together raising their voices (and their fists, I imagine) against the assault to press freedom and democracy by 70 members of the House of Representatives who voted to deny the broadcast giant ABS-CBN of a new franchise.

Setting aside competition, the journalists, through their news outfits and beat press corps, issued separate statements: The Malacañang Press Corps; The Defense Press Corps of the Philippines; The Senate Reporters Press Corps; The Economic Journalists' Association of the Philippines;

The Justice and Court Reporters' Association; The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines; Rappler; The Philippine Daily Inquirer Reporters; The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Even future journalists -The University of Sto. Tomas Journalism Society and The UP College of Mass Communication- came out with statements denouncing what the 70 congressmen did.

The common message in all those statements from media is expressed in the statement of more than 500 reporters and editors from different organization in different parts of the country, which reminded the ignorant congressmen: “The role of a journalist in a democratic society is to keep the people well-informed to allow them to be free and self-governing, not to serve as any administration’s publicist.”

“In denying the network of a franchise, the 70 lawmakers clearly want to treat the press as a propaganda machine that will serve their political interests, embellish their image, and parrot their spin,” the journalists further said.

It would not be easy for President Duterte and his minions, in his own words, to “kill journalism.” We sense the defiance from statements of members ofthe University of Sto. Tomas Journalism Society and UP College of Mass Communication

But the journalists are determined to overcome this setback. The joiurnalists said, “Victory came easy for the forces that conspired to bring down ABS-CBN. But the rehabilitation of the image of those condemned by history won't, as it will be fraught with the collective wrath of a people who live by democracy and the rule of law.”

We are telling President Duterte and his minions: “You cannot, as you have ordered early in your term, ‘kill journalism’.”

***

The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, a national network of journalists, academics, and civil society representatives, zeroed in on the role of what it called “Cayetano Congress” in damaging democracy and spreading disinformation.

Here’s the D and D consortium’s statement in full:

The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation denounces the decision of the Committee on Legislative Franchises to reject a new franchise for the ABS-CBN network. Despite the manifest unfairness of the hearings conducted, and the miraculously efficient 40-page report the Technical Working Group released 24 hours or so after the last hearing, the Cayetano Congress could not and cannot stop the truth from coming out: Other government agencies proved that the main issues thrown at ABS-CBN were baseless.

For the Cayetano Congress to insist that these issues remain valid is to spread disinformation.

The Department of Justice confirmed that network chair emeritus Gabby Lopez is a natural-born Filipino. The Securities and Exchange Commission testified that both ABS-CBN and GMA networks use Philippine Depositary Receipts and that they are not “evidence of ownership.” The National Telecommunications Commission acknowledged that ABS-CBN did not violate its franchise with its multiple TVPlus programs. The Bureau of Internal Revenue proved that the network had no tax delinquencies. The Department of Labor and Employment said in its opinion ABS-CBN was compliant with labor standards (although, to be certain, other labor issues remain). To insist, as Rep. Rodante Marcoleta has done and the TWG report smoothly rationalizes, that these statements from government agencies do not matter and only “the will of Congress” does is to abuse a power granted by the Constitution, in order to spread disinformation.

The worst disinformation is to assert that denying the country’s largest news network a new franchise is not a press freedom issue. The TWG report itself devotes four pages to matters of editorial content: alleged “biased reporting, inappropriate program content and political meddling.” To insist, as the report does in its conclusion, that this is “in no way related to the freedom of the press” is to spread disinformation.

Insisting on the so-called will of Congress at the expense of the truth is an abuse of power that damages essential traditions and institutions: predictability of rules, accountability of government officials, evidence-based policy-making. The Cayetano Congress used this will to prevent a news organization, however imperfect, from speaking truth to power. That’s the truth.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

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