EDITORIAL - Delegate the power
EDITORIAL - Delegate the power
(The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2020 - 12:00am

The rejection of the franchise application of ABS-CBN will have no chilling effect on the Philippine mass media, according to the presidential spokesman, since the network’s core business is not news but entertainment.

That news component of the broadcast giant, however, is still considerable. Several issues raised by those who opposed the grant of the franchise involved news coverage and what they deemed to be unfair reporting by the network. So there is a press freedom aspect in the shutdown, apart from the loss of thousands of jobs in the middle of a crippling pandemic. This is apart from the loss of people’s access to the country’s most extensive information network.

Members of the House of Representatives heard all these arguments and more, and chose to set them aside for what they deemed to be violations of Republic Act 7966, the law that granted ABS-CBN its 25-year franchise in 1995, as well as violations of tax laws and constitutional provisions on media ownership. By an overwhelming 70 votes against just 11, with two inhibitions and one abstention, the House committee on legislative franchises thumbed down a new franchise for the network.

Why? Because they could. Critics of the rejection say the House members ignored the rebuttals, presented even by several government agencies, of the issues raised against ABS-CBN.

Network executives did apologize for some of their actions notably in the treatment of news and current affairs. But did the punishment fit the perceived offense?

The shutdown puts the spotlight on the process of granting broadcast franchises, which in this country is supposed to be largely ministerial. At this point, however, it has become a highly politicized process that could threaten the independence particularly of broadcast media, which requires a franchise to be able to operate.

Journalists have vowed not to be cowed by the shutdown of the country’s largest broadcast network. A people’s initiative is being eyed to compel the grant of a franchise, although this is a tortuous process for attaining the objective.

What is germinating is a move to have Congress delegate its constitutional power to grant broadcast franchises to an independent agency that can regulate the broadcasting, satellite and cable services. Instead of politics dominating the process and threatening freedom of expression, the regulatory body can provide expertise and perhaps even assistance in helping the industry grow rather than killing it. While the current Congress is unlikely to support this move, it’s a good time to start the discussions.

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