Snail pace of ABS-CBN franchise renewal has huge stakes
STAR CIRCUIT - Ricky Calderon (The Freeman) - June 3, 2020 - 12:00am

It’s time to sound the alarms on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. At the recent Senate hearing, the company’s president and CEO Carlo Katigbak gave a dire response as he was asked if the company continued to compensate its employees.

“We continue to lose a substantial amount of money every month, your honor, and I’m afraid that if we could not go back to air anytime soon, by August we may have to consider beginning a retrenchment process,” Katigbak answered with an obvious sign of anguish for his constituency.

Since going off air, ABS-CBN has been losing P35 million pesos —a day — in advertising. Even banks with which the company has outstanding loans, have decried they could become collateral damage in this needless ordeal.

As citizens — commentators, columnists, and netizens — have endlessly pointed out, the timing of the shutdown squeezes every ounce of hope from the network. Like the rest of the entire business sector, it already stands to lose much business amid the public health crisis. How much more proof does one need to realize that the company will be left with no choice but to start letting go of its people as it remains off air in more months?

The snail pace that this entire process has taken is hitting Filipinos where it hurts at this time of the pandemic. Filipinos have a need for access to information, including, and especially those in the farthest reaches of the country. ABS-CBN’s franchise includes 23 radio and 42 television stations that serve our countrymen. These stations are able to bring the news to them more efficiently than the existing local stations could.

It would be instructive to know that the Social Weather Stations (SWS) report last year revealed that “television is still the main platform for news consumption” and that “compared to other news media, a majority 60 percent of adults (an estimated 40.4 million individuals) still consume news daily through television.”

The network has been broadcasting Knowledge Channel, which airs educational shows that hundreds of thousands of children watch – on top of bringing back its educational programming of previous years. Katigbak has even committed to working with the government in order to strengthen its program for distance learning via television.

It’s a good thing that the Congressional hearings are now underway, this time for the network’s full 25-year franchise.

At the resumption of the hearing in Congress last Monday, June 1, the sponsors of the bill were finally heard, including former employees Rep. Sol Aragones, Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto, and Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting, all of whom worked in the industry for years. We heard from Rep. Aragones and Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto about the public service that ABS-CBN has given through the years, which is above and beyond providing news and information, to Filipinos. Rep. Tambunting shared a reminder of the lessons that ABS-CBN’s shows impart to its viewers.

In this process, we hope Congress will act fairly and immediately on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal, keeping in mind the huge stakes involved, including labor and the safety of Filipinos in disaster-prone and far-flung areas of the country.

We also hope they indeed not be bullied by anyone so that we can expect a fair decision. While this process could still go either way for the embattled network, we certainly hope that solons will see clearly how the ABS-CBN has served the Filipino people for many years by giving them job opportunities and the chance to realize their dreams.

We remain hopeful that ABS-CBN franchise will be renewed. If we have family members or friends working in the network, we certainly would want them to keep their jobs.

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