The fate of broadcast giant ABS-CBN is generating a lot of static, as the expiration of its legislative franchise draws near, and as the administration launches a legal challenge that threatens the network’s continued existence.
In Congress, bills seeking to extend the franchise have stalled as the March 30 expiration approaches, amid accusations from some lawmakers that the network took sides during the 2010 and 2016 elections.
Earlier, the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto petition asking the Supreme Court to nullify ABS-CBN’s franchise by arguing that it had violated its terms as well as constitutional restraints on foreign ownership. The government’s top lawyer has since asked the Supreme Court to impose a gag order on the network while the case is pending.
President Rodrigo Duterte, too, has been vowed several times to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. In a speech in December, he addressed the network’s owners directly: “If I were you, just sell it. Because it’s only now that the Filipino can retaliate against your abuses. And I will make sure that you will remember this episode of our times forever.”
Duterte accuses ABS-CBN of “swindling,” claiming that the network did not air his political ads during the 2016 campaign despite his having paid for them.
Despite government denials, the campaign against ABS-CBN has been portrayed as an attack on press freedom. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called the quo warranto petition a direct attack on press freedom and freedom of expression. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines also denounced moves by the government to shutter the country’s largest broadcaster. The group Human Rights Watch slammed the administration’s “misuse of regulatory powers” by mounting “politically motivated legal actions against the network.”
Even Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia begrudgingly acknowledged that the looming shutdown of ABS-CBN could hurt investor confidence.
The government’s lawsuit against ABS-CBN just adds more static to the picture. Congress is clearly the proper venue to determine if the network deserves to continue operating. For the sake of stability and investor confidence, lawmakers need to address the issue directly—and promptly.