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Senate hearing on ABS-CBN franchise issue turns on violations

IT struck us while monitoring Monday’s Senate hearing on the burning ABS-CBN Corp. franchise renewal controversy, that the event was being broadcast live solely by the ABS-CBN channels, particularly its cable news channel, ANC.

Normally, discussions of big public issues grab the attention of all media. But, this time around, the other broadcast networks showed disinterest and passed on the Senate extravaganza, thereby depriving some eager senators the precious opportunity to preen before the cameras.


The difference in attitude is wholly understandable. The franchise issue is an existential concern only of ABS-CBN, because it is the only one whose franchise is set to expire on March 30.
The other networks are not facing the same quandary because they have their franchises intact or have already renewed them.

Consequently, the hearing was principally about ABS-CBN and its interest. The interest of other media was only superficially or tangentially affected.
Unless they buy the network’s propaganda that its franchise renewal is an issue implicating press freedom in the country, most media and journalists would likely steer away from the issue and opt to cover something else.
During the hearing, the chief interlocutor, Sen. Mary Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, sought to focus the questioning chiefly on whether ABS-CBN has violated the terms of its franchise.

This opened the gates for numerous explanations on how ABS-CBN has been 1) a major taxpayer to the government; 2) an invaluable public service to the nation; and 3) a model corporate citizen and leader in the nation’s broadcast industry.
Senator Poe did not bother to explain why she has summarily classified mass media as part of her turf as head of the Public Services committee, in the same category as public utilities and public utility vehicles. Soon, newspapers and broadcast networks must share the same category as the bewildering motorcycle taxis, because the Senate recently approved the innovation in one Senate bill.

After slogging wearily through the questioning at the hearing, we started to wonder why the Senate was delving into all these things since the chamber does not normally conduct public inquiries into franchise renewals.
Why is the franchise of ABS-CBN a matter of public interest at all? How are the interests of an individual citizen implicated in this question since it principally concerns big business and tycoons?
We could answer that the business of ABS- CBN is public service and is, therefore, of public interest. But then this opens a discussion of the quality of the broadcast service and there is a big debate there.

Why are the purported violations not being investigated instead by the National Telecommunications Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission?
The only highlight of the hearing came when Sen. Ronald dela Rosa raised the issue that Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao wrote about in his column on Sunday, wherein he contended that ABS-CBN top boss Eugenio Lopez 3rd is a United States citizen and has been since 1987. He said this was an open and glaring violation of the Constitution’s Article XVI provision limiting ownership and management of media to citizens of the Philippines.

An ABS-CBN executive lamely replied that Lopez was a Filipino citizen, having been born to a Filipino father and a Filipino mother.
He glossed over the information that Lopez is really a dual citizen of both countries.
The question will now turn on whether the Charter would allow dual citizens to hold stocks, even a controlling interest, in a national media organization.
Source and Original Article: >>> The Manila Times


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