Most Filipinos support ABS-CBN franchise, many see rejection as blow to press freedom — survey

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Most Filipinos support ABS-CBN franchise, many see rejection as blow to press freedom � survey
Supporters and employees of ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcast network, hold placards as they join a protest in front of the ABS-CBN building in Manila on February 21, 2020. Philippines' government lawyers moved on February 10 to strip the nation's biggest media group of its operating franchise in what campaigners branded a fresh attack on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte.
AFP / Basilio Sepe

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 10:25 a.m.) — An overwhelming four out of five Filipinos believed that Congress should renew ABS-CBN Corp's legislative franchise, while more than half of Filipinos saw the eventual non-renewal as a blow to press freedom in the country, survey data suggests.

Past surveys indicated that the network is generally highly trusted by Filipinos, SWS said in its report of the new data. 

The survey interviews were conducted over the 12 hearings of the House on the renewal of the franchise, but before the July 10 vote by the Committee on Legislative Franchises — voting 70-11, with an abstention and two inhibitions — to deny the network's application for a fresh franchise.

The Palace typically accepts SWS survey results when they reflect flattering sentiment on the government's performance.

According to a new Social Weather Stations report, 75% of Filipinos agreed that “Congress should renew the franchise of ABS-CBN so that it can broadcast its programs again." Only 13% were against the sentiment while 10% were undecided. 

Furthermore, 56% agreed that "Congress’ non-renewal of ABS-CBN franchise is a major blow to press freedom" while 27% disagreed and 15% were undecided. 

The survey interviewed 1,555 adult Filipinos via mobile phone and computer-assisted telephone interviewing with sampling error margins of ±2% for national percentages, ±6% for Metro Manila, and ±5 for Balance Luzon, ±5% Visayas, and ±5% in Mindanao.

Speaking in an interview over dzBB on Friday, though, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque claimed that the junking of the network's franchise was the "decision of the Filipino people."

At the last of the hearings, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta (SAGIP Party-list) rebuffed statements by government agencies on the alleged violations, saying: "It is not the view of the Securities and Exchange Commission that matters here. It is not the opinion of the Department of Justice that will prevail here [or] the Bureau of Immigration or other agencies. It is the will of Congress that should be accorded due respect."

The country's human rights commission has aired concern over the denial of the network's franchise by the House committee on legislative franchise.

"CHR continues to stress the importance of timely, credible information in pushing everyone towards the correct direction in responding especially to a pandemic," it said.

"The loss of a major network has inevitably left millions of Filipinos in the dark, especially those in far-flung areas with no access to the internet as an alternative. Unless Congress can disabuse the minds of the public that its decision was not based on a fair review and was devoid of any political consideration, the denial of the franchise, gives a chilling effect on the freedom of the press," it added.

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