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The ABS-CBN Shutdown and the Evident Disregard for Press Freedom in the Philippines

Press freedom has always been a controversial issue here in the Philippines, especially with the current administration. Unfortunately, for a country with its press freedom hanging on a thin thread, more than half of its constituents do not have the wits to acknowledge the importance of the press as a pillar of democracy. The poor regard for press freedom reflects on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index Ranking, wherein the Philippines garnered the 134th place. (World press freedom index, 2021)

Last year, one of the most prominent media companies in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, was ordered to go off air through an NTC order, eventually leading to its inevitable shutdown. The media network fought for its renewal, which was sadly ungranted. There are several claims and reasons for denying the franchise's renewal, but was it a personal vendetta? Or did ABS-CBN break the law? Moreover, is this an action that goes against the freedom of press?

Legally, ABS-CBN did nothing wrong. According to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), ABS-CBN Corp. is not delinquent on its taxes because it has been paying its taxes consistently for several years. ABS-CBN Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ricardo Tan also confirmed that ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiaries have paid the government P71.5 billion in taxes in the last 17 years. The transparency reports of BIR alone should have been enough to renew the media company’s franchise because that is the legal basis.

In terms of their media reporting and their alleged biases in reports, I firmly stand by the fact that they abide by modern-day journalism principles and standards. A very recent issue on this was the netizens tagging ABS-CBN as bias on their reports regarding the anniversary of the Marial Law. And so what if they labeled the late former President Ferdinand Marcos as a dictator? Was he not? Is it not a fact that Martial Law was a form of dictatorship? Did the reports lie? This is not being "anti-Marcos"; this is called being transparent. Because all I see are facts, and facts are never biased. Would you defend a thief if there's much evidence to his heists? No. Not at all. Furthermore, ABS-CBN upholds transparency with their reports, whether they may be displeasing in the eyes of others, and that is the most fundamental rule of journalism.

Moreover, bias in Journalism is inevitable because with so much going on, why did you choose to report on something rather the other? You could've chosen to do a story on the late former president Corazon Aquino in honor of her death anniversary. Yet, instead, you chose to do a story on the children and relatives of the victims of the Mendiola Massacre because you deem it more relevant. Why? Former President Corazon Aquino is a topic of importance as well. You chose the story because you see it as something more substantial. The crucial unjust death of the unprivileged was much more story-worthy than the death of a privileged former president. Whether you'd like to admit it or not, that was a form of bias because you chose and you were in favor of another story than the other. The incapacity of journalists to publish all available stories and information and the demand that selected facts be connected into a cohesive story are practical limitations to media neutrality. Selectivity is unavoidable because it is difficult to report everything. (Media Bias | Boundless Political Science, 2021)

Likewise, the ABS-CBN shutdown attacks press freedom and democracy. Why? ABS-CBN is a media network that hands out news to the people of the country. They shut down a media network in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic wherein people are locked into their homes and aren’t aware of the happenings due to their lack of exposure to the outside world- they will only rely on the radio, television, and social media for news. The shutdown deprived thousands if not millions of people from getting news. The right to inform and to be informed was violated, therefore it is a breach of democracy. Not to mention the fact that legally, ABS-CBN did nothing wrong. And because of that, this shutdown could lead to the shutdown of other media franchises as well. If they don’t base the renewal of the franchise on legal frameworks, there’s no telling what they could shut down next.

However, painfully, some fail to recognize the shutdown of ABS-CBN as a form of oppression of press freedom. In a Facebook post and a patronizing essay in a Manila broadsheet, Sionil Jose chimed in on the topic. He claimed that "Filipinos don't actually need ABS-CBN" and that its demise did not jeopardize press freedom. No one should be saddened by the network's closure since "it does not produce goods or food" and "it does not reduce poverty."

And this is why press freedom is in danger here in the Philippines. Many don’t see it as a crucial component of a country. Additionally, higher uppers don't like it when the media reports their shortcomings and illegal doings. As a result, they try to silence the press. They’d even go as far as to kill journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as of now there are 89 journalists and media workers killed in the Philippines between 1992 and 2021 with a motive confirmed.

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Why stop the media from reporting what is true? Why withhold something of importance to the people who put you in your position? How much of the happenings will people be informed of if media is restricted? How true are the issues being passed on to the masses if media is restricted? Ladies and gentlemen, with all that is mentioned in this essay, one main point remains clear: how would you know if the government is doing its job without the media? That question alone should already highlight the importance of press freedom and why no one should not take it for granted.

References (APA 7):

Committee to Protect Journalists – Defending Journalists Worldwide. (2020). Committee to Protect Journalists. https://cpj.org/data/killed/asia/philippines/?status=Killed&motiveConfirmed%5B%5D=Confirmed&type%5B%5D=Journalist&type%5B%5D=Media%20Worker&cc_fips%5B%5D=RP&start_year=1992&end_year=2021&group_by=location

Galvez, D. (2020, July). ABS-CBN has no tax delinquency; “regularly” paying taxes – BIR exec. INQUIRER.net. https://business.inquirer.net/301458/abs-cbn-has-no-tax-delinquency-regularly-paying-taxes-bir-exec

Media Bias | Boundless Political Science. (2021). Lumenlearning.com. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-politicalscience/chapter/media-bias/The ABS-CBN shutdown and democracy - BusinessWorld Online. (2020, May 28). BusinessWorld Online. https://www.bworldonline.com/the-abs-cbn-shutdown-and-democracy/

World press freedom index. (2021). RSF. https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2019

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Heleina Taeza

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