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Chilling effect on the press? Only ABS-CBN is off the air, Dela Rosa says

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Chilling effect on the press? Only ABS-CBN is off the air, Dela Rosa says
Sen. Ronald 'Bato' dela Rosa files his certificate of candidacy for president under PDP-Laban in this photo dated October 8, 2021.
Photo by COMELEC on Twitter

MANILA, Philippines — Though he eventually apologized, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa — a former national police chief and currently the administration candidate for president — lost his cool Tuesday as he vehemently denied there is government suppression of media in the Philippines, saying as well that there was no press freedom issue in a House panel's rejection of ABS-CBN's application for a new franchise.

In hearings at the House, among the issues brought up were alleged labor issues and tax deficiencies. Members of the House also berated ABS-CBN executives for supposed bias in reporting and for airing election ads against President Rodrigo Duterte when he was running in the 2016 elections.

Speaking in an interview aired over ABS-CBN News Channel, Dela Rosa rejected the claim that journalists are operating under a chilling effect caused by the shutdown. He stressed as well that no journalist has been jailed for doing their job.

Dela Rosa earlier said that he disagreed with the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. 

According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Rappler "focused critical attention on the Duterte regime's controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign," which Dela Rosa led during his tenure as PNP chief. 

"You tell Maria Ressa, give me one single media practitioner that this government jailed because of their criticism against the government! Give me one," he said in Filipino. 

The Palace has often pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte has not filed any libel cases against journalists.

Despite that, the Nobel prize committee cited Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov "for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace."

It also said the two journalists "are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions." 

Dela Rosa, on Tuesday said: "Why will I proclaim what Maria Ressa did? Did she win a Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for freedom of the press? Is there ongoing suppression of press freedom here in the Philippines?"

According to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, state agents have been linked to at least 114 cases of harassment and attacks on media, based on consolidated data from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

CMFR, in an assessment during World Press Freedom Day in May, noted that a "deepening culture of fear is itself effectively controlling newsrooms."

The organization, which monitors news coverage, said that "even before the pandemic, CMFR had begun to track numerous issues left un-investigated, stories un-told that the people have a right to know."

"The effect overall is government’s control of the news agenda. CMFR’s media monitor counts government officials as the predominant sources in the news. They set the news narrative and are generally given more space and time than those opposing them."

What about the ABS-CBN shutdown?

"The effective closure of the country’s major broadcast network ABS-CBN was an unprecedented act of state power which struck to the core of the media system and the communities, leaving them still shaken by the experience. If this can happen to ABS-CBN, then it can happen to any of the others," CMFR also said in May.

The tough-talking Duterte in 2019 said he would see to it that the franchise of broadcast giant ABS-CBN would not be renewed. After a House panel voted to junk the application for a franchise, he said that even if Congress grants the network a new franchise, he would tell the National Telecommunications Commission not to issue a permit to operate.

Asked about the shutdown of the country's largest broadcast network, Dela Rosa yelled: "No! How can you say chilling effect? Did they close GMA? Did they close TV-5? They didn't. It's just you, only ABS-CBN wasn't given a franchise by Congress."

"It was Congress! There are many deliberating there and many voting...they represent the people," he said of the House of Representatives.

A July 2020 survey by Social Weather Stations found that 75% of adult Filipinos agree with the statement "Congress should renew the franchise of ABS-CBN so that it can broadcast its programs again".

In the same survey, 56% said they agreed that "Congress’ non-renewal of ABS-CBN franchise is a major blow to press freedom."

READ: Media watchdog lists Duterte among world 'press freedom predators' 

— Franco Luna 

ABS-CBN FRANCHISE ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS PRESS FREEDOM SEN. RONALD DELA ROSA
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