Media should report on ABS-CBN shutdown fallout

Screengrab from ABS-CBN News’ Youtube video.

AFTER 12 taxing hearings focusing on alleged violations that government agencies denied, ABS-CBN’s ordeal in the House of Representatives ended with a disappointing but unsurprising decision. On Friday, July 10, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises and ex-officio members denied ABS-CBN’s franchise application with an overwhelming 70-11 vote. Failing to hurdle the committee level, the franchise bills filed have been “killed.” In effect, the network’s free TV and radio stations nationwide are now permanently prohibited from using their assigned frequency to broadcast.

Philippine media gave due attention to this unprecedented attack on one of their own. Primetime newscasts ran the franchise rejection as their top story on June 10. Broadsheets gave it banner treatment the following day. Coverage carried the statements of support from different groups, providing as well some insight into the next steps that ABS-CBN may take.

But media have yet to discuss more fully the grave, long-term impact of the loss of ABS-CBN’s franchise, the effect on different sectors as well as on the institutional relationships involving government, the press and the people, which all warrant more analysis in the news.

CMFR monitored the coverage of six Manila-based broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times, Manila Standard, Daily Tribune), four primetime news programs (ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s One Balita Pilipinas and CNN Philippines’ News Night) and selected online news sites from July 9 to 15.

Legal options

TV reporters stationed in the House promptly reported the voting results, taking note that the official tally had not yet been released. News Night, One Balita Pilipinas and 24 Oras referred to the House rule allowing any representative who voted with the majority to file a motion for reconsideration, but this had to be done within 24 hours.

Journalists reporting from the ABS-CBN compound captured the scenes in the huge network, where in now quiet newsrooms employees gathered, and outside, where crowds of supporters kept vigil outside the Sgt. Esguerra gate. Reports interviewed ABS-CBN staff who said they feared most the loss of their jobs.

CNN Philippines was the first to report mounting a people’s initiative as a possible legal recourse, citing opinion from Atty. Enrique dela Cruz, a partner at Divina Law and a Bulacan councilor. Other media organizations across three platforms followed suit, referring to other lawyers, representatives and senators who agreed with the idea. Election lawyers and Comelec officials who had reservations about the feasibility and constitutionality of this remedy were also quoted. reported on July 13 that aside from people’s initiative, another remedy is to question the House’s grave abuse of discretion before the Supreme Court, noting that this is a largely untested remedy. The report also provided an update on developments: that no representative filed a motion for reconsideration within the period allowed for this action, and that none of the 70 representatives had changed his or her vote.

Effects of closure

More journalists should broaden the discussion of the economic fallout from the closure, the impact on the media landscape, and the issues of public interest.

CMFR cheers the few accounts which provided insight into these matters.

The Inquirer’s July 12 report “Gainers, losers in altered TV landscape“said that GMA, ABS-CBN’s rival, is now the only dominant network. It pointed out that GMA has gained advertising revenues since ABS-CBN was forced off the air on May 5. But as advertising agencies scrambled to switch platforms, they also expressed reservations about a media monopoly.

How ABS-CBN’s exit will hurt Philippine economy,” a Rappler analysis published July 13, pointed out that the franchise denial not only bloats the current unemployment rate by putting 11,000 ABS-CBN staff out of employment, but also affects supply chains and outsourced industries. The article added that the already cash-strapped government is losing a top source of tax revenues in the process. Rappler also cited “speculative impact” such as the reinforcement of negative perceptions on the rule of law and doing business in the Philippines.

Both Inquirer and Rappler emphasized that the viewing public stands to lose the most as their media choices have been reduced, ultimately depriving them of free, accessible information.

But the congressional abuse is rooted in a higher power: that of the chief executive. Duterte had publicly said he wanted to close the network. The media promptly re-directed attention to his role in the franchise denial. Debunking the Palace’s insistence on the president’s neutrality,‘s July 10 report compiled video clips of Duterte’s threats and accusations against ABS-CBN over the last three years. But the separation of powers often merge to fulfill objectives both good and bad. In this case, the two powers fused, ignoring the constitutional protection given to media, unmindful of the public service function of ABS-CBN. It took 70 voting representatives to demonstrate this power. As of writing, the official breakdown of votes has not been officially released, another disservice that media should highlight. Their constituents deserve to hear how they voted, their explanations if any, and media should lead the demand to hold them accountable.