On the eve of the crucial vote on ABS-CBN’s franchise, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano claimed the network practices political partisanship intended to protect their business interests.
“I submit that this is not press freedom. It is the theft of government from the people while hiding under the pretense of press freedom,” Cayetano told a joint hearing of the House legislative franchises committee and the House good government and public accountability committee.
Critics of ABS-CBN, Cayetano included, claimed that the Lopez family used the influence of the media giant to promote some candidates while creating a plot against other electoral hopefuls in the past elections.
“Big business, conjoined with commercial media, should not be allowed to engage in partisan politics by wielding its power to protect its interest, meddle and interfere in elections, and surreptitiously support certain candidates in the guise of reporting the news,” he said.
ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak earlier denied that the network has political biases and favors particular candidates.
Cayetano issued a serious warning against those private businesses that “protect their interest and support their handpicked candidates while targeting those who oppose them.”
As the franchise committee comes closer to a vote, Speaker Cayetano said that congressmen should decide if the media giant was used by its owners to protect their own interests.
“O totoo bang may mga nagagalit lang dahil tinamaan sa news nila at objective po sila?” he added.
Last Monday, some congressmen spent much of the 10-hour hearing airing their personal grievances against ABS-CBN’s alleged biased and unjust news about them.
Cayetano previously criticized ABS-CBN’s news coverage, particularly of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016, but decided not to personally raise it with network executives.
In 2016, ABS-CBN allegedly triggered Duterte’s anger for airing a negative ad funded by former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV against him and for not airing some of Duterte’s local ads that year (this was due to fully booked slots).
However, at that hearing, it was also revealed that the political ads owned by Vice President Leni Robredo, Mar Roxas, and Trillanes, were also not given airtime as well.
“Assuming that we are on the air during the next campaign period, we have already committed to putting together an online system for the purchase of political ads so that there is full transparency as to the ‘first come, first served’ policy, as well as full transparency on shows that are already filled up,” said Katigbak.
“Despite everything that has been said and done, I am hopeful that we will be able to rise above our partisan sentiments for the good of the nation and strengthening of our democracy,” Cayetano told congressmen.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) shut down the network last May 5 because of an expired franchise despite an application in Congress pending since 2014.