GMA-7 airs one-sided interview against ABS-CBN

Screengrab from GMA News’ Youtube video.

ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise expired on May 4, 2020. The House of Representatives had not decided on the network’s application for its franchise renewal. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN late in the afternoon of May 5. The network aired its evening newscast TV Patrol and signed off at 7:52 pm.

The closure provoked public outrage and protest was heard even from non-media groups. Sadly, media solidarity seemed lacking.

Worse, a one-sided interview seemed to justify the closure without providing the side of ABS-CBN. 

On ABS-CBN’s final night on air, GMA-7’s 24 Oras reported that the Federation of Cable TV and Telecommunications Association of the Philippines (FICTAP) thanked the NTC for listening to its allegations against ABS-CBN.

Later in the program, anchor Jessica Soho interviewed Estrellita Juliano Tamano, FICTAP national chairman. Tamano claimed that ABS-CBN’s addition of channels within its one assigned broadcast frequency, its offerings of a digital TV box and a pay-per-view service violated provisions in its original franchise.

Soho did not question Tamano’s allegations. She did not say that GMA-7 tried to get ABS-CBN’s response to the issues raised by FICTAP. The placement of the interview within the newscast was also suspect, as it was aired before the program’s final segments on entertainment and “KapusongTotoo,” which boosts the projects of the network’s foundation.

Solidarity should not interfere with reporting the truth. But as the issues had already been discussed in a Senate hearing, the complaints were not new. ABS-CBN had already responded to these issues in a Senate hearing. The news program should have checked their files to supply the relevant points ABS-CBN made to counter FICTAP.

On social media, netizens supporting ABS-CBN’s shutdown shared the 24 Oras interview, reinforcing their arguments against the franchise renewal.

24 Oras reported ABS-CBN’s point-by-point response to FICTAP on May 7, two days after the interview with Tamano. But the obligation to present the other side is clear; it must be done in the same story. Only when the other side unduly delays its response, perhaps in an attempt to kill the story, should a report go ahead with the one side it had, explaining that it could no longer wait for the response. 

CMFR cheers two news programs that did the right thing.

TV5’s One News Now presented both FICTAP’s and ABS-CBN’s sides in its May 6 newscast. The report also pointed out that ABS-CBN had already answered FICTAP’s allegations in a Senate hearing last February 24.

On May 7, CNN Philippines’ News Night reported that social media had carried FICTAP’s “one channel, one frequency” claim. The report expanded the discussion, saying that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) itself released in 2017 a framework for the country’s transition to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting (DTTB), which allows the efficient use of a single broadcast frequency to air multiple channels. In a separate interview, News Night sought clarification from Patrick Chin, co-founder of DTV Pilipinas, regarding the Philippines’ shift from analog to digital television as the basis for one franchise covering multiple channels.

GMA-7’s belated airing of ABS-CBN’s side did little to remedy the damage caused by its one-sided story. The uncritical presentation of FICTAP’s claims paints GMA-7 in the colors of a gleeful competitor when its rival is down. It failed the test of fairness, of the obligation to tell the whole story in the first cut, which means the other side gets to defend or explain itself.