"ABS-CBN has been dealt with clinically, efficiently and masterfully."
For now, ABS-CBN as we know it is dead and buried, so to speak. The National Telecommunication Commission performed the last rites two weeks ago by taking back the frequencies assigned to the company. The way it was done was clinical, efficient and masterful.
Many are applauding the company’s demise. There are more however, who are beginning to miss the company. This is perhaps because if we watch or listen to the remaining TV and radio stations, it seems that all of them are in a way singing the same tune.
As we all know, the troubles of ABS-CBN started when the President verbally attacked it for not airing his campaign advertisements during the 2016 elections. He even advised ABS-CBN to better sell the company because it was doubtful whether it would be granted a franchise. Thus, the denial was not entirely unexpected, even as some continued to hope for a miracle.
Let us look at some of the issues raised. One is the citizenship of the company Chairman, Gabby Lopez. Legal luminaries — including former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile who is no fan of the Lopezes – have said that the citizenship question is not a good enough reason to deny the application. Besides, if citizenship is so important, why are the members of the House not objecting to sending of foreign-born beauties to the Miss Universe pageant? Some of them have foreign passports. Is it perhaps because some House members are holding foreign or United States passports? I wonder.
The other issue is about the so-called bias of ABS-CBN. On this point, the House may have inadvertently revealed its true intentions because this is simply another way of saying that the station is true-blue Yellow.
Still another issue is the accusation that Gabby Lopez is an oligarch. We know that the Lopez family is rich. They belong to the old rich of Philippine society because of the vast tracts of land that they used to own. In the 1950s and 60s when sugar was king, there were a number of families who were indeed politically powerful. But not anymore. The Lopezes together with the other landed gentry can no longer be compared to our new business tycoons who are dollar multi-billionaires and who own multiple businesses. They are not even listed in Forbes magazine list of billionaires.
The Lopez family, although still wealthy, does not satisfy all the elements to be considered an oligarch in the traditional sense. As to the perceived power of the family because of their ownership of a TV station, why should the government worry about this? After all, it also owns a TV station which is its propaganda arm and can counter anything thrown at it by other stations. Is it because Channel 4, the government station has very little credibility? Hardly anyone watches it.
If ABS-CBN has become too powerful for its own good, this is because people choose to watch it. Apparently, they like what they see and hear. If Channel 4 wants to rival ABS-CBN, it should try to improve its programming. A TV station cannot force people to watch it if they do not like to. There was also nothing that ABS-CBN was doing that other stations were not doing.
If we can all agree that our country is indeed a functioning democracy where there is a free market of ideas, then we can also agree that in a democracy, one cannot win them all. There will always be disagreements even in the media. One media outlet may take one side and another take the opposite side. When this happens, it is the people who decide which station they want to watch.
It is fundamental for a democratic country to have a free press in every sense of the word. Without it, that country is not democratic. It is as simple as that. Over the last four years, the approval rating of President Duterte has been over 80 per cent – a feat unheard of anywhere in the world. With that kind of approval rating, he should be sleeping soundly, unmindful of some quarters that do not agree with his policies.
But his enablers are apparently not satisfied. They want more. This may, however, end up costing the country more harm. The country’s international reputation has already taken a hit on account of the issue of press freedom. If we add the anti-drug campaign into the mix, then the harm done increases. We live in a community of nations and we trade and constantly interact with them.
We cannot escape the scrutiny and sometimes criticism from other countries. It is simply the way things are in this world.