Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility: Statement on Calida’s Quo Warranto
THE CENTER for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) joins the call for clarity on the legal questions arising from the latest effort to undermine media freedom: Does quo warranto apply to invalidating the franchise granted to ABS-CBN? Is it appropriate for the Solicitor General to even raise the renewal of a media enterprise to the Supreme Court? Should a franchise given to a corporation involved in the exercise of press freedom be handled in the same way as a franchise to trade in public utilities?
CMFR sees the suit against ABS-CBN as a dangerous attempt to control and silence the free press. But Solicitor General Jose Calida’s petition has to be understood on legal grounds.
After the questionable ouster of Ma. Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Calida appears to believe he has found a magic formula. Barely two years after that sorry scandal, the quo warranto rears its ugly head a second time during this administration.
CMFR calls on the legal community to clarify whether there is a legal basis for such use of quo warranto. Alas, lawyers may feel restrained, as those who practice law may be afraid to risk offending the powers that be, in and out of the Court.
Calida’s petition clearly serves the interests of a sulking president. Fresh from his electoral victory in 2016, President Duterte during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) attacked ABS-CBN along with Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In 2017, he complained that ABS-CBN failed to air political ads which had already been paid for. He harped on this grievance repeatedly, threatening to cancel the network’s franchise. However, the current petition lists other offenses subject to the authority of other agencies to evaluate, for instance, the Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) approved by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Franchises in the digital age have fallen into some kind of limbo. In most countries, the franchise authority is held by independent bodies such as a federal commission on communications. The regulatory framework checks to assure a level playing field for all media companies. Court interventions do not silence and control; but aim to enforce fairness in the treatment of all parties in a conflict and to promote diversity and the abundant flow of and access to information.
The history of the media franchise in this country has favored the unfettered exchange of ideas and the practice of independent journalism — with the exception of the Martial Law period, when all free press organizations were closed down.
Do we want to drag the country back to this dark period?