By: Francis Allan L. Angelo

One of the underreported issues which can potentially alter Philippine journalism is the crackdown on TV giant ABS-CBN and the “weaponizing” of congressional franchises to stifle dissent in a democratic setting.

Media monitor (or watchdog) Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has taken notice of the tepid if not deafening silence on the predicament faced by the Lopez-owned media organization.

I am yielding my space to CMFR’s commentary which was posted on on Dec 17, 2019:

A lack of media attention: Duterte’s threat against ABS-CBN

TIME IS running out for broadcast giant ABS-CBN. With only three months left before its franchise expires, its fate is in the hands of its two loudest critics: House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and President Rodrigo Duterte. Both have accused the country’s biggest network of partiality during the 2016 presidential elections.

Broadcast franchises are approved by Congress. ABS-CBN got its 25-year franchise on March 30, 1995 and must receive a new one March 30 next year. If Congress fails to pass the bill for its renewal, ABS-CBN will have to cease its radio and television operations.

Cayetano earlier pledged that the House would discuss the franchise renewal before the end of the year. Recently, he said it will be discussed next year. While he reassured the broadcast giant that the House would strictly observe “due process” in its deliberation, some reports were quick to point out that, as a loyal Duterte ally, the Speaker has repeated the same threat to shut down ABS-CBN.

In a recent tirade against ABS-CBN, Duterte said, “If you are expecting na ma-renew ‘yan (franchise), I am sorry. I will see to it that you are out,” he said last December 3 during the oath-taking of newly appointed government officials in Malacañang.

Duterte first accused ABS-CBN of unfair reporting and for failing to run political ads which had already been paid for during his campaign – in April 2017.  The following month, he threatened to file estafa charges against the media company for allegedly “swindling” him. In November 2018, he repeated these threats and allegations.

The shutdown of the biggest broadcast network in the country would render more than ten thousand people jobless. The threat in itself sends a chilling effect on all media. The news hardly caused a stir, with media organizations limited to single reports unlike their coverage of the earlier cases against Rappler.

CMFR monitored the leading Manila broadsheets Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star; four primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s Aksyon) and some online news sites from December 3 to 9, 2019.



The issue barely made it to the primetime newscasts. And the reports that did make it merely quoted government officials without any context. During the monitor period, only News Night and Aksyon aired reports on it. ABS-CBN did not report it, and neither did its archrival, GMA-7.

Although print coverage did considerably more than broadcast, analysis of job loss and press freedom issues were limited to quotes, relying on sources from Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) and Defend Jobs, as well as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for a critical perspective.


Weaponizing the franchise

Expressed anger has proven a most effective tool when the president chooses to exert his power and to silence his critics in and out of the media.

He had threatened online news site Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer — and made good on those threats. PDI offered to sell the newspaper to a businessman supporter of the president. Rappler has had to defend itself in court. At least 11 cases including cyber libel, foreign ownership and tax evasion have been filed against its CEO Maria Ressa, its executives and staff.

In concert with the digital trolls on social media, the president’s threat to shut down ABS-CBN is part of the same sustained assault against a critical press.

Not surprisingly, Duterte has weaponized the TV franchise, another armament used by Ferdinand Marcos against an independent press.

Media’s failure to call more public attention to this move against ABS-CBN is deeply disturbing. The Philippine press has held up a stunning record of defending itself, speaking truth to power and standing up against government abuse. But this obsequiousness recalls how Marcos created his crony press. Maybe Duterte has succeeded in doing the same. (