ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal woes have nothing to do with press freedom, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano maintained yesterday, as journalists, activists, and celebrities band together to support the embattled media giant.
In a statement that appeared on his Facebook page, Cayetano accused politicians supportive of ABS-CBN of being driven by their own personal agendas (which, let’s face it, is pretty rich coming from a guy who has said, in public, that his own personal agenda includes hamstringing ABS-CBN).
“Unlike those who are motivated only by their ambition for higher office, or their dislike of the President, Congress does not have the luxury of treating this issue as a mere platform for publicity or a sounding board for empty rhetoric.”
Cayetano added that he and his allies were not out to “demonize” the company, which he has previously accused of interfering in the 2016 elections, and claimed that the House of Representatives’ decision to sit on the franchise renewal was borne out of patriotism (not kidding, that’s actually what he said).
“We are not here to praise nor demonize the network,” Cayetano said. “Despite our own personal feelings on the matter. Duty and love of country demands (sic) that we rise above our own personal biases and examine the matter squarely in order to arrive at a just decision.”
(It should be noted that Cayetano has previously acknowledged having a “personal bias” of his own against the network — as does his pal, President Rodrigo Duterte — and that the reason Congress hasn’t “examined the matter squarely” is because Cayetano himself has deliberately delayed any debate on the matter.)
Cayetano also insisted that neither press freedom nor freedom of speech was under attack, despite the fact that the expiration of ABS-CBN’s license would result in the shutdown of what may be the biggest newsroom in the Philippines — oh, and despite immediately acknowledging that his beef with the network was purely a matter of personal politics.
“[W]hen corporations use airwaves and broadcast frequencies — resources that are rightly owned by the people — these franchises come with serious responsibilities and accountabilities to the Public,” he said.
ABS-CBN, he claimed, abused its license because its coverage of the elections allegedly favored certain politicians (which presumably didn’t include himself). In reality, the network regularly features personalities from both sides of the aisle, including supporters of the Duterte administration.
“The government, acting on behalf of the people, cannot justify [the] abuse of the franchise simply because it entertains the masses. The franchise is not a license to do anything that they desire with their airtime — including manipulation, disinformation, and deception,” he went on.
“Can anyone honestly say, after watching the coverage of the network during the 2010 and 2016 elections, that ABS-CBN did not take sides and favor any candidate? Or that personalities and politicians who through the years have had [a] strong affinity with the station do not receive undue advantage during campaign season?”
(So yeah, there’s no threat to free speech. You’re free to say anything in the world that Alan Peter Cayetano agrees with. Oh, and then he went on to obliquely threaten other independent networks with a similar fate should they step out of line, so, heads up, guys!)
Cayetano, who most recently earned the public’s ire for his hamfisted management of the 2019 SEA Games, said that ABS-CBN can still operate even after its license expires “until the last day of the 18th Congress,” or sometime in 2022. Some members of Congress, however, have contradicted Cayetano, saying that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) may not allow ABS-CBN to operate.
Cayetano added that he believes Congress has more important bills to tackle than ABS-CBN’s franchise, that he did “not see the urgency of a hearing” (the license expires in less than six weeks), and that holding one would “drain” Congress’s “momentum.”
However, Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch yesterday lashed out that stance, criticizing politicians — without naming names — who have used their personal issues to justify their refusal to tackle ABS-CBN’s license.
In an interview on ANC, a cable channel that ABS-CBN owns, Conde said, “It’s not the job of Congress, of the Senate to try to determine whether ABS-CBN, for instance, has covered, you know, issues fairly. It’s not their job.”
“The job of the franchise committee is to extend the franchise based on their assessment, or the NTC, the government’s assessment of ABS-CBN’s conduct directly relating to the franchise.”
“To try to use these complaints, no matter how valid they are, to try to influence the issuance of the franchise, that’s what makes it really egregious. That’s what makes it really problematic,” he added.