DEFENDING PRESS FREEDOM IN THE FACE OF ‘TYRANNY’
Never since the restoration of democracy after Martial Law had the media experienced the kind of oppression it is going through under the Duterte administration.
First, it was the Philippine Daily Inquirer, then Rappler, now ABS-CBN. People who are critical of the President, especially those who dwell on matters that involve his war on drugs and the dealings of members of his family, have also experienced the rage by one man who, knowing he has vast power, wields this authority to go after people and institutions who dare cross those in the halls of Malacañang and challenge the status quo.
Instead of seeing media as an essential component of any democratic society, the President has considered them enemies.
While ABS-CBN has the means of hiring the best lawyers to represent them in court, the efforts by which some try to stifle the operation of a well-established entity sends a chilling effect especially to media entities that could hardly get by in this competitive industry.
How can media perform its function as a vehicle of information when it is under threat? The giant network’s franchise ends next month. But weeks before its franchise expires, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court and questioned the network’s operations. Among others, the OSG said ABS-CBN breached its franchise by allowing foreign “ownership.” Failing to pay taxes and operating beyond the scope of its franchise were also cited as reasons.
Malacañang already denied it had a hand in the filing of the petition. But given the President’s open criticism of the network, we can only surmise that the timing is suspect.
Congress also has some explaining to do. The proposal to extend the franchise of the network has been submitted as early as during the term of former president Benigno Aquino III. Until now, Congress has yet to act on the proposal.
We understand that Congress has its hands full performing its many functions. We also know that it has many priorities and that there are more important matters that it should be focusing on. But like the OSG, there is a high-level of suspicion that it chose to linger discussing the proposal to extend the network’s franchise, because of the fact that majority of the members are allied with the current administration.
ABS-CBN or any of the entities that have crossed paths with the president are not perfect. Yet it, along with the media in general, has a function to fulfill – that of helping maintain the essence of democracy by educating and empowering the citizenry through accurate and proper information.
It has been proven time and again that a free press is necessary in any democratic institution. Since the Spanish and Japanese occupation and Martial Law, the press may have been restrained but in the end, it was able to weather the storm and prevailed. In paraphrasing a philosopher, one media group says that our country will be better off without a tyrant, than without a free press.
It is in this light that we reiterate the challenge of a media group which called on our colleagues in ABS-CBN and across the media landscape to stand against a government which abuses its power, to report and to expose, and not to be terrified by this patently tyrannical quo warranto.
And if the government feels that the network violated the law, it should be the one leading so that these laws are adhered to. It is never correct to wield vast powers to suppress and to oppress.