ABS-CBN loses bid for new franchise

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  • The legislative franchises committee of the House of Representatives on July 10 rejected ABS-CBN Corp’s application for a new franchise.

    According to ABS-CBN’s news account, this means “permanently shutting down a major part of the country’s largest media network”.

    According to the network, the development drew accusations that authorities are cracking down on press freedom.

    Out of 85 panel members and ex-officio members present, only 11 congressmen voted against a drafting group’s recommendation to deny a fresh 25-year license for the broadcaster.

    Seventy congressmen voted against granting the franchise, 11 in favor, 2 inhibited and one abstained.

    The 11 lawmakers who voted for ABS-CBN to return on air were:

    Bienvenido Abante Jr, Manila 6th District

    Carlos Isagani Zarate, Bayan Muna party-list

    Christopher De Venecia, Pangasinan 4th District

    Edward Vera Perez Maceda, Manila 4th District

    Gabriel Bordado Jr, Camarines Sur 3rd District

    Jose “Ping-Ping” Tejada, North Cotabato 3rd District

    Lianda Bolilia, Batangas 4th District

    Mujiv Hataman, Basilan

    Sol Aragones, Laguna 3rd District

    Stella Luz Quimbo, Marikina 2nd District

    Vilma Santos-Recto, Batangas 6th District

    According to ABS-CBN, the vote puts in jeopardy the jobs of more than 11,000 workers under the ABS-CBN group of companies.

    The network said these include its broadcast business whose programs enjoyed a massive reach of more than 80 million Filipinos here and abroad.

    Bills pushing for a new ABS-CBN franchise had been stuck at the House franchise committee since 2014, and didn’t move until public pressure over the National Telecommunications Commission’s shutdown order prompted congressmen to hear the application in earnest.

    ABS-CBN’s push for a new franchise was complicated by attacks from President Rodrigo Duterte, who, in December 2019, declared that he would “see to it that you’re out.”

    Duterte later appeared to have softened his position on ABS-CBN’s franchise bid, following an apology from the network’s president and CEO last February over a negative campaign ad aired against the then Davao City mayor in the 2016 presidential elections.

    The president accepted the apology and Malacañang later said that he would be “neutral” on the franchise application.

    ABS-CBN Corp. can again seek a franchise during President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

    However, the NTC can assign ABS-CBN’s frequency to another entity, said Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate.

    Local star Anne Curtis, an ABS-CBN contract artist for more than 16 years, was among the celebrities who expressed support for the network after its franchise application was denied on Julu 10.

    “I am lost for words,” Curtis wrote on Instagram.

    The lawmakers who denied the franchise—many of them allies of President Duterte—took pains to emphasize that their decision had nothing to do with press freedom, even though Duterte had threatened as early as 2018 to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s license to operate.

    “By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom,” their resolution read. “If it were so, then all applicants for legislative franchises covering mass media could simply claim such freedom and force the hand of this committee each time.”

    ABS-CBN was ordered to stop operating on May 5 after its legislative franchise expired, even though there were several bills seeking its renewal pending in the House of Representatives.

    Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the ABS-CBN franchise bills, expressed dismay over the results of the voting.

    “The protracted hearings conducted by the committees on legislative franchises and on good government followed a foregone conclusion, and despite ABS-CBN surviving the grueling legislative inquisition, it was slain at the end of the show with premeditation and abuse of superiority in numbers as aggravating circumstances,” Lagman said in a statement.

    Opposers of the franchise renewal application led by Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta raised eight issues against the network:

    –the dual citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III;

    -the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts by ABS-CBN Holdings to foreign nationals;

    -the irregular reacquisition of the broadcast facilities by the Lopez family after 1986 People Power Revolution;

    -the 50-year constitutional limit on franchises;

    -the network’s digital migration;

    -its alleged labor malpractices;

    -tax issues;

    -and biased news reporting.

    Alvarez said the ABS-CBN can appeal before the joint committee and added that the decision of the committee to deny the franchise application will no longer be elevated to the chamber in plenary session for action.

    ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak said he looked forward to the day that they would “reunite under one broadcast.”

    “We are deeply hurt that the committee on legislative franchises has denied the franchise application of ABS-CBN,” he said in a statement. “We believe that we have been rendering service that is meaningful and valuable to the Filipino public. Nevertheless, we would like to thank the committee for allowing us a chance to air our side on all the issues raised against us.

    “ABS-CBN would like to thank all the congressmen who stood by their bills to renew our franchise, or who spoke out on our behalf during the hearings. We are forever grateful.

    “We also thank everyone who expressed their support and offered their prayers for us. We could not have gotten to this point without you.

    “We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission. Together with our employees and our audiences all over the world, we share in your sadness over this setback. We look forward to the day when we can again reunite under our broadcast. Mga Kapamilya, thank you for keeping the faith with us,” Katigbak said.

    The House panel’s denial of ABS-CBN’s bid for a new broadcast franchise has a chilling effect that might influence media reporting, Vice President Leni Robredo said.

    In a statement, Robredo, the leader of the opposition, said government had been expected to respect freedom of the press.

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