What lawmakers got wrong: Highlights of 12th House hearing on ABS-CBN franchise

July 7, 2020 - 4:40 PM
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ABS-CBN building
ABS-CBN's ELJ Communications Center in Quezon City. (Patrick Roque via CC BY-SA 4.0)

Several members of the House of Representatives on Monday focused on questioning the network’s programs and editorial guidelines instead of tackling the legal issues hounding the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.

The hearing, which was supposed to end with a verdict on the ABS-CBN’s fate lasted for ten hours on Monday after lawmakers aired their grievances against the network’s content and renewed old accusations against the media firm.

These congressional hearings, which had been ongoing since May 26, deliberated on bills seeking to grant the country’s largest broadcasting firm a fresh 25-year franchise

These were led by the Joint Committees for Legislative Franchises and Good Governance and Public Accountability.

However, throughout these sessions, the topics discussed varied between recycling old issues that had ABS-CBN had already been addressed and other woes not related to the broadcast giant’s franchise such as Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III’s citizenship.

On May 5, ABS-CBN’s radio and television operations went off the air in compliance with the National Telecommunications Commission’s cease-and-desist order because its franchise lapsed.

Nearly a month later, the state regulators also issued an alias CDO to Sky Cable Corporation, a subsidiary of ABS-CBN and the country’s largest cable network, to close its direct-to-home satellite transmissions via Sky Direct.

NTC also banned the operations of ABS-CBN’s TV Plus channels via Channel 43 or AMCARA Broadcasting network, which include Cine MO!Yey!TeleRadyo, and pay-per-view channel Kapamilya Box Office.

What lawmakers got wrong during the hearing

During the lengthy 12th hearing, the representatives who opposed ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal dipped their toes to the content of the company’s programs and their editorial guidelines in news reporting, which were also supposed to be not related to the broadcast company’s license to operate.

Allegations on biased reporting during the 2016 elections

ABS-CBN’s coverage of the 2016 national elections was recalled once again and accused of political bias for only giving airtime to advertisements of favored candidates.

During the inquiry, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City, 2nd District) asked ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak who among the winning senatorial candidates had political ads that were not aired and the ABS-CBN chief replied the names of senators Francis Tolentino, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Leila De Lima, Miguel Zubiri and Ralph Recto.

Katigbak added that political ads of President Rodrigo Duterte, his fellow presidential bets Mar Roxas, late Miriam Defensor Santiago as well as vice-presidential candidates Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Escudero, Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos were also not aired.

“Assuming we’re on air in next campaign period, we’ve committed to put together an online system for purchase of political ads. There’s full transparency on the 1st come, 1st served policy,” Katigbak said when asked for commitment to air all political advertisements.

Duterte earlier alleged that ABS-CBN failed to air his political advertisements worth P7 million despite him winning a landslide victory.

Efraim Bag-id, acting director of the Commission on Election’s Campaign Finance Office, countered these and informed the panel that there was no pending complaint or violation of the Omnibus Election Code against ABS-CBN that time.

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) likewise stated no supposed violations against the Broadcast Code, which mandates fair coverage for election candidates.

ABS-CBN also previously explained that airtime of political ads is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Taking offense to slant and airtime in news reportage

Rep. Janette Garin (Iloilo, 1st District) and Rep. Abraham Tolentino (Cavite, 8th District) also hit ABS-CBN News over their perceived unfair and irresponsible broadcast of old national events.

Garin raised the network’s previous erroneous reports on the Dengvaxia vaccine, which ABS-CBN had since apologized for.

Rep. Lito Atienza (Buhay Party-list), meanwhile, clapped back at Garin and reminded her that she had already been indicted by the justice department.

Abraham, meanwhile, accused ABS-CBN of not giving him and his brother, now senator Francis of not giving a chance to defend themselves on air over a libel case against ABS-CBN broadcaster Ted Failon in 2014.

Former broadcaster Jay Sonza, who is also a known vocal supporter of Duterte on social media, also joined in the series of accusations that ABS-CBN is unfair in its news reportage.

ABS-CBN News head Ging Reyes defended her team and noted that the job of journalists is, to tell the truth, and keep their biases in check.

“Every reporter, writer, producer, anchor, every editor, in the newsroom knows that what we do is not just a job. It is a response to a call to tell the truth and work for a cause greater than ourselves,” she said.

Former ABS-CBN News anchor and reporter Kata Inocencio also said that she and her colleagues exercise their duties as broadcast journalists based on the ethical standards of their profession.

Journalists also explained online the nature of their work.

Retired journalism professor Luis Teodoro cited the concept of media criticism in communication studies.

“Media criticism is a special field in communication studies. And yet some congressmen without the most basic understanding of the ethical and professional standards of the news media pretend to be experts on how best the media should cover events and issues,” Teodoro said.

News correspondent Barnaby Lo, meanwhile, hit back at Sonza on his false view about balanced journalism.

“Ano pinagsasabi ni Jay Sonza? Balanced journalism is not about giving all sides equal time on-air or space in a paper. Balanced reporting is getting all sides then writing what prevails as the truth!” Lo said.

Tackling controversial scenes in old TV programs

Minority Floor Leader Benny Abante (Manila 6th District), who is a pastor, focused on the supposed inappropriate content of ABS-CBN’s old TV shows.

Abante read a long list of instances wherein ABS-CBN’s entertainment division allegedly “offended the sensibilities of viewing public.”

These included some controversial scenes from former series which Kapamilya love teams Kathryn Bernardo-Daniel Padilla and James Reid-Nadine Lustre starred in as well as old episodes of the network’s long-running reality shows.

It should be noted that some complaints or criticisms against them before had already been resolved and brought up to the adjudication committee of MTRCB (Movie and Television Review and Classification Board).

ABS-CBN Corp. chief operating officer (COO) for broadcast Socorro Vidanes argued that these stories are anchored to inspire, entertain, and give hope to their views.

“There is no intention to give audience trash kasi po mahal namin ang audience namin and we are here to serve them… Maganda ang hangarin namin. We want to entertain, inspire and give hope to the Filipino audience,” she said.

Fans and supporters of the television series mentioned also noted online that ABS-CBN also provides an MTRCB warning on explicit content before the episode starts.

Scriptwriter Jerry Gracio also lamented the lawmakers supposed blame game.

“So, kasalanan pala namin,” he said on Twitter.

The members of the House concluded the hearing at around 12 midnight.
They are set to discuss the summary of this inquiry and vote on the ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal on Thursday, July 9.