My scorecard shows an 8-0 sweep of the major issues in favor of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise renewal.
This is my personal assessment of the outcome of the lengthy and grueling hearings conducted by the joint committees on legislative franchises and good government.
Verily, based on the merits, ABS-CBN Corporation rightly deserves a renewal of its franchise. Its ordeal must be ended and its franchise renewed.
My scorecard is based on the following:
(1) Mr. Gabby Lopez is a natural born Filipino citizen, although he has dual citizenship as an American by accident of his place of birth in the United States which adopts the principle of jus soli;
With respect to the 100% Filipino capitalization and management of mass media, the Constitution does not distinguish between a Filipino of single citizenship and a Filipino with dual citizenship. We must not also distinguish.
(2) The issuance of Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs), with ABS-CBN’s underlying shares, refers to instruments of investment, not transfer of stock ownership or participation in management. The constitutional requirement of 100% Filipino capitalization and ownership of mass media is not violated by such PDRs.
(3) Corporations which have been operating for more than 50 years are not disqualified from being granted a renewal or a new franchise.
There is no constitutional provision or statute which prohibits the renewal or grant of legislative franchises to corporations which have been in operation for more than half a century. These time-tested corporations have achieved adequate experience and relevant expertise, aside from having invested millions of pesos in their businesses.
The 50-year limitation in the Constitution for a legislative franchise only means that there must be a cap of not more than 50 years for each franchise that the Congress can issue at a time.
Corporations, like wine, become better due to the passage of time. The Constitution did not envision or intend that the badge of inutility must attach to corporations which have reached the golden age.
(4) After the EDSA People Power Revolution, the Lopez family lawfully and deservedly reacquired ABS-CBN network after it was illegally confiscated and its facilities used without compensation during the martial law regime. The reacquisition was authorized by legal issuances from the Office of the President, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and the Supreme Court.
(5) The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and other agencies have certified that ABS-CBN has no unpaid taxes, tariffs, and/or fees.
(6) ABS-CBN Corporation has complied with labor decisions which may have become final and executory, and will abide with other decisions of labor and judicial tribunals which will subsequently become final and executory.
The more important labor issue is the displacement of more than 11,000 employees and workers of ABS-CBN and its affiliates consequent to the non-renewal of its franchise.
(7) The adoption by ABS-CBN of its TV Plus and other innovative devices and programs is consistent with government’s mandate for digital migration, thus authorizing TV networks to operate multiple channels. Neither did its expired franchise nor any law prohibit ABS-CBN’s offering of pay-per-view services.
(8) The related issues on “biased reporting” and “meddling in politics” are actually non-issues because critical commentary, reasonable preference, and even incidental bias of TV and radio networks are fully protected by the expansive veil of freedom of the press and free speech. It is tolerable and not censurable.
Moreover, aside from providing the public with information, public service, and entertainment, a broadcasting network is a catalyst for the formation of differing opinions. Therefore, it must be proactive, not passive or timid. Its broadcasting may even approximate allowable “rhetorical hyperbole” because “[d]ry facts, by themselves, are hardly stirring. It is the commentary thereupon that usually animates the discourse which is encouraged by the Constitution as integral to the democratic way of life.” (Guingguing v. CA, G.R. No. 128959, September 30, 2005). The same case ruled that “it cannot be helped if the commentary protected by the Bill of Rights is accompanied by excessive color or innuendo.”
Likewise, in Chavez v. Gonzalez (G.R. No. 168338, February 15, 2008), Chief Justice Reynato Puno declared: “To be truly meaningful, freedom of speech and of the press should allow and even encourage the articulation of the unorthodox view, though it be hostile to or derided by others; or though such view ‘induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.’ To paraphrase Justice Holmes, it is freedom for the thought that we hate no less than for the thought that agrees with us.”
Furthermore, the Fair Election Act does not enforce a policy of neutrality on media outlets and neither does it prohibit them from advocating preferences as long as rival parties and candidates are afforded equal time, space, and the opportunity to reply.
Enforced neutrality is anathema to freedom of the press which allows the broadcast of differing and antagonistic views.
Broadcasting networks are allowed to “meddle in politics” particularly during the campaign period in which the freedom of the press strengthens the right of suffrage by maximizing the electorate’s access to varied kinds of information and propaganda.
In ABS-CBN v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 133486, January 28, 2000), the Supreme Court ruled that: “The freedoms of speech and of the press should all the more be upheld when what is sought to be curtailed is the dissemination of information meant to add meaning to the equally vital right of suffrage.”
Finally, under its franchise (R.A. No. 7966) ABS-CBN Corporation is only enjoined
“not (to) use its stations for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, act or scene, or the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation to the detriment of the public interest, or to incite, encourage, or assist in subversive or treasonable acts.”
Accordingly, what are proscribed are libelous broadcasts and those constituting criminal acts for which ABS-CBN is not indicted.
No less than the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), through its responsible officials, testified that ABS-CBN Corporation has no pending unresolved cases before them with respect to any violation of the Broadcast Code of the Philippines and the rules and regulations of the MTRCB.
Likewise, the COMELEC said that there is no pending case against ABS-CBN for any alleged violation of the Fair Election Act, the Omnibus Election Code, and other related election laws.
EDCEL C. LAGMAN