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ABS-CBN franchise renewal controversy

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The congressional franchise that enabled ABS-CBN to broadcast expired on 4 May 2020. Since 2014, the network had applied for the renewal of their franchise through house bills which have been pending in the Congress of the Philippines. The network was forced to temporarily stop broadcast on 5 May 2020 after the Philippines' National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease and desist order relating to the expiration of the franchise.[1] This marked the first time the network had been off the air since 1986, having been shut down during Martial law under Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.[1]

Background[edit source | edit]

Under Philippine law, broadcasting networks require a congressional franchise to operate television and radio stations.[2] ABS-CBN was granted a 25-year franchise by virtue of Republic Act No. 7966 (March 30, 1995), expired on May 4, 2020 as upheld by the Department of Justice (Philippines).[3]

Franchise renewal efforts[edit source | edit]

Before the 17th Congress[edit source | edit]

In 2014, ABS-CBN asked the 16th Congress to extend its franchise. The company withdrew it due to time constraints.[4]

During the 17th Congress[edit source | edit]

In 2017, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte objected to the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, mentioning that the network has aired news reports that are critical to his administration, and the network's refusal to air his 2016 presidential campaign ads in favor of an advertisement paid from by-then vice presidential candidate Antonio Trillanes critical of his remarks on the campaign trail.[5] Meanwhile, Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez defended the controversial ad as was well within Election Law, under "Partisan Political Activity"[6][7] Duterte publicly reiterated that he will oppose the 25-year franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.[8] Opposition lawmakers as well as labor groups objected to Duterte's stand on ABS-CBN as the franchise non-renewal will compromise the employees of the network; stating that the blocking of the franchise renewal had no merit. Opposition groups also claimed that the non-renewal of the franchise violates press freedom.

In November 2016, Nueva Ecija Representative Micaela Violago filed House Bill 4349 in the 17th Congress to renew the network's franchise.[9][10] The 17th Congress adjourned sine die with no resolution on the matter.

During the 18th Congress[edit source | edit]

In the 18th Congress of the Philippines, at least 12 lawmakers has filed their own versions for a new franchise of the network. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has made assurances that the Congress will tackle the franchise with fairness.[11]

On February 24, 2020, the CEO of the network apologized to President Rodrigo Duterte for not airing his political advertisements during his 2016 polls, and the Congress finally made its decision to tackle their franchise renewal.[12]

During a Senate Hearing on the same day, public services panel chair Grace Poe stated they were to tackle ABS-CBN's compliance with the terms and conditions of its franchise.[13] The conclusion was that there was no breach of laws or franchise terms. The following is a summary of the findings:

  1. The Bureau of Internal Revenue stated that ABS-CBN had fully complied with the tax requirements of the government. Sir Cabantac Jr., BIR Large Taxpayers Service head stated that the company had paid P14.298 billion from 2016 to 2019. In 2019, ABS-CBN also settled P152.44 million in tax payments with the BIR.[14]
  2. The Department of Labor and Employment cleared the media giant for its compliance with general labor standards, occupational safety and health, and security of tenure. Former ABS-CBN corporate services head Mark Nepomuceno said they also have contributed to mandatory employee benefits such as SSS, Phil-Health, PAG-IBIG. He also stated that ABS-CBN was no longer practicing end-of-contract scheme, as well as giving benefits to independent contributors varying per contract negotiation[14]
  3. Telecommunications Commissioner General Gamaliel Cordoba stated that franchise laws cover “commercial purposes”, including pay-per-view service. Section 1 of Republic Act 7908, which allows ABS-CBN Covergence’s broadcast operations, states that: “It is hereby granted a franchise to construct, operate, and maintain, for commercial purposes.” Even though ABS-CBN introduced the service without NTC guidelines yet, the fine for such violation is a measly P200. Senate President Recto stated that the NTC can just impose a fine on ABS-CBN rather than shutdown.[14]
  4. Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Ephyro Amatong clarified that a legal interpretation from 1999 stated that Philippine Depository Receipts were not equivalent to certificates of ownership, which may have evolved in recent years. Senator Poe pointed out that companies should be notified of any changes in the legal interpretation of the investment instrument, as all media companies have to be 100% Filipino-owned. Issuing PDRs is a common practice among Philippine media outfits—including Rappler and GMA. The SEC has not yet conducted a review whether there are violations in ABS-CBN’s PDRs, with Amatong saying he "would rather not make a categorical statement at this time" as to whether there are violations in ABS-CBN’s PDRs, given the pending case at the Supreme Court, as of May 6, 2020.[14]

May 2020 broadcast stoppage[edit source | edit]

On May 5, 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease and desist order to temporarily stop the network's broadcast, including its radio stations DZMM and MOR, following the expiration of its broadcast franchise the day before.[15][16][17][18][19][20] The cease and desist order covers 42 television stations operated by ABS-CBN across the country, including Channel 2, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, and 5 AM stations.[21]

The network signed off the air at Template:Format time following the news program TV Patrol.[22] ABS-CBN executives Carlo Katigbak and Mark Lopez aired statements appealing the NTC cease and desist order.[23][24]

ABS-CBN was also given 10 days to explain why its assigned frequencies should not be recalled.[25]

Reaction[edit source | edit]

Several journalists and celebrities from ABS-CBN and rival GMA Network expressed solidarity with ABS-CBN after it was ordered to cease its radio and TV broadcast.[26][27] The hashtag #NoToABSCBNShutDown topped the local Twitter trending list the same day. [28]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  2. ACWS-UBN vs. NTC, 445 Phil. 621 (February 17 2003).
  3. "ABS-CBN franchise to expire on May 4, 2020 – DOJ" CNNPhilippines.com February 24, 2020.
  4. "Congressional Franchises as a Weapon to Defeat a Free Press". Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. 17 June 2016. Archived from the original on 2 September 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  5. Placido, Dharel (8 November 2018). "Duterte to 'object' to ABS-CBN franchise renewal". ABS-CBN News. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  6. "RULES AND REGULATIONS IMPLEMENTING THE FAIR ELECTION ACT - CHAN ROBLES VIRTUAL LAW LIBRARY". www.chanrobles.com. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  7. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  8. Aurelio, Julie M.; Inquirer Research (4 December 2019). "I'll see to it that you're out, President tells ABS-CBN". Inquirer.net. Retrieved 25 January 2020. "Your franchise will end next year. If you are expecting that it will be renewed, I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out,” he said, addressing ABS-CBN.
  9. "House Bill 4349. 17th Congress House of Representatives, Republic of the Philippines" (PDF). Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  10. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  11. "Cayetano: 'Congress will be fair' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal" Philstar.com. December 4, 2019. Retrieved on December 15, 2019.
  12. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  13. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  15. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  16. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  17. "ABS-CBN's heart-rending last moments before shutting down". Inquirer.net. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  18. "Philippines orders its largest broadcaster off the air as nation fights virus". The Washington Post. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  19. "Philippines largest TV network ABS-CBN ordered shut". AlJazeera. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  20. "Leading Philippine Broadcaster, Target of Duterte's Ire, Forced Off the Air". The New York Times. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  21. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  22. Gregorio, Xave (6 May 2020). "ABS-CBN goes off air following NTC order". CNN Philippines. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  23. "President and CEO Carlo L. Katigbak's message on the cease and desist order issued to ABS-CBN". ABS-CBN News. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  24. "READ: ABS-CBN Chairman Mark L. Lopez's message on the cease and desist order issued to ABS-CBN". ABS-CBN News. 6 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  25. Lua error: bad argument #1 to 'fetchLanguageName' (string expected, got nil).
  26. Guno, Niña. "GMA stars, journos stand with ABS-CBN in wake of sign-off". INQUIRER.NET. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  27. "Stars react to ABS-CBN being ordered to close TV, radio operations". ABS-CBN News. 5 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  28. "#NoToABSCBNShutDown tops local Twitter list after NTC issues halt order". ABS-CBN News. 5 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.