"We should resolve the ABS-CBN issue promptly so we can shift back our focus on ensuring the provision of other essential public services to the people."
For weeks now, the Executive and the Legislative branches have been immersed in the issue of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise renewal as a television and radio broadcasting network. The franchise was granted in 1995, pursuant to Republic Act No. 7966, signed by then President Fidel Ramos. On Monday, the Senate committee on public services held a hearing on the matter which was attended by chief officers of the network and officials from concerned government agencies.
There is no doubt that ABS-CBN’s shows are among the most popular in the country. The possible non-renewal will also affect the lives of thousands of its employees and their families, as well as the economy.
However, we have to assess carefully the actions of the network. Did ABS-CBN properly fulfill its obligations under its franchise? Did the network pursue its interests unerringly, without sacrificing fairness and integrity?
As with any grantee of legislative franchise, the network’s services are imbued with public interest. As such, there is a reasonable expectation that they shall adhere to principles of justice, fairness, and morality. Complying with the law is a given. Thus, there is an obligation on the part of the broadcasting network to remain truthful in relaying news and information, and fair in giving parties equal opportunity to voice out and express their sides.
Let me highlight that legislative franchises are a privilege. Regulations are in place and must be followed. Public interest must be upheld. The perpetual debate between what is moral and what is legal comes into picture. While legally speaking there may be no violations incurred by the network, on an ethical and moral basis, we may have to reassess the network’s actions. With the network’s undeniably strong influence, it carries a sense of obligation to uphold moral standards befitting its privilege as a franchise.
Allegations of impartiality among networks are quite common. However, public communications must be fair regardless of political color and inclinations. The alleged bias of the network during the 2016 elections marred the integrity of the company in its duty to render public service in accordance with its franchise. Partisanship cannot pervade public service. Credibility entails neutrality and impartiality. With this, I remain hopeful that the government and ABS-CBN Corporation will arrive at an amicable settlement without undue desecration of the principles behind legislative franchises and public service. I urge the government to resolve the issue promptly so we can shift back our focus on ensuring the provision of other essential public services to the people.