Congressmen on Friday voted to reject a new broadcast franchise for ABS-CBN Corp., permanently shutting down a major part of the country’s largest media network, in what is seen as part of a worsening crackdown on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Voting 70 to 11, the Committee on Legislative Franchises dashed ABS-CBN’s hopes to resume operations under a new franchise, months after the president repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on the network over complaints of partisanship in the 2016 presidential elections.
The committee voted to “deny the application of ABS-CBN Corporation for a franchise to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain radio and broadcasting stations in the Philippines.”
“By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom,” according to the findings of a technical working group that prepared the resolution against ABS-CBN.
“It is what it is–a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.”
Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, who represented the minority in the 3-member drafting committee, dissented to the resolution against ABS-CBN’s franchise.
The vote puts in jeopardy the jobs of more than 11,000 workers under the ABS-CBN group of companies, particularly its broadcast business whose programs enjoyed a massive reach of more than 80 million Filipinos here and abroad.
The company had been losing P30 billion to P35 billion in daily revenues following a cease-and-desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission over an expired franchise last May 5 or over 2 months ago.
In the past, the NTC allowed other media networks to remain on the air while applying for a new one in Congress.
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 NTC shutdown order prompted congressmen to hear the application in earnest.
ABS-CBN’s push for a new franchise was further complicated by relentless attacks from Duterte, who, in December 2019, declared that he would “see to it that you’re out.”
Duterte’s 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.