The final hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise is set today, Monday, on the last issue regarding the alleged political bias of ABS-CBN that may render its officers liable for violation of the Omnibus Election Code. It is possible that the congressmen shall put the franchise to a vote on Monday if they finish early, according to House Committee on Legislative Franchises chairman Rep. Franz Alvarez. The likely situation is for today’s hearing to finish near midnight with the plethora of issues that may crop up, since this is, after all, about politics — a topic that politicians themselves will never stop talking about. The House may be constrained to hold another setting, possibly on Wednesday.
First draw on politics was made by ABS-CBN as its people spent the weekend sending texts and posting messages of support for its franchise with the cheap antic of listing the official email addresses of the congressmen who are members of the Committees on Franchise, and Good Government and Public Accountability. This is inviting of abusive and hate emails to the congressmen who already have been mocked enough online.
With Internet memes that pop out in real-time during each hearing, the public has made it a pastime to wait for gaffes and faux pas to be committed by the congressmen. The latest victim was Rep. Crispin “Boying” Remulla being caught, purportedly by the cameramen of ABS-CBN, jotting down notes while the Philippine National Anthem was ongoing. Designers were quick to edit and upload these online, and within minutes, they were unleashed on the Internet. This, of course, led to the relentless lashing by Rep. Remulla against ABS-CBN in the evening of the same day.
Cheap shots committed by media will have their consequences. The biggest cheap shot committed by ABS-CBN is the non-airing of the campaign advertisements of President Rodrigo Duterte during his presidential run, despite the payment of fees by their team. Another cheap shot is the preferential airing of the anti-Duterte advertisement late in the campaign. Then vice-presidential candidate, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, had to resort to the filing of a petition for temporary restraining order to stop its playing by ABS-CBN.
As a result of those cheap shots, we have this protracted discussion on the granting of the ABS-CBN franchise. But these are being done not because the President was slighted — it is because these acts are in violation of the law.
The expired franchise of ABS-CBN, Republic Act 7966, or “An Act Granting the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation a Franchise to Construct, Install, Operate and Maintain Television and Radio Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines, and for Other Purposes,” provides that the grantee shall be responsible to the public in Section 4 thereof. More specifically, it states that ABS CBN shall “provide at all times sound and balanced programming… conform to the ethics of honest enterprise; and not use its stations for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, art or scene, or for dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation to the detriment of the public interest….”
Further, Republic Act 9006, or “An Act to Enhance the Holding of Free, Orderly, Honest, Peaceful and Credible Elections Through Fair Election Practices.” Section 6 of this law states, “All registered parties and bona fide candidates shall have equal access to media time and space… All members of media, television, radio or print shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. They shall recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.” Violation of these shall be considered as an election offense punishable by the Omnibus Election Code.
A lot has been discussed in the franchise hearings, from ownership issues, citizenship, tax avoidance mechanisms and labor claims. The final nail shall definitely be its alleged political biases since the main offended party is the President himself. As we have written before in this paper, ABS-CBN’s past has definitely caught up with it.