Manila: Philippine government lawyers moved to strip the nation’s biggest media group of its franchise in what campaigners called another attack on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte has repeatedly pledged to stop the broadcast operations of ABS-CBN and expressed anger over its reporting during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
A petition filed with the nation’s top court alleged that ABS-CBN violated the restriction imposed by the constitution on foreign ownership of mass media by allowing overseas investors to join the company.
Solicitor General Jose Calida told reporters that the case was filed in order to stop the supposed “abusive practices” of the network.
“We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefiting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers. These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years, ” Calida said in a statement yesterday.
He said the petition would show that ABS-CBN had been hiding behind an “elaborately crafted corporate veil” as foreign investors take part in the ownership of the network, which is in violation of the foreign interest restriction of mass media under the 1987 Constitution.
Section 11, Article XVI of the Constitution provides that: The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens.Calida said ABS-CBN had issued Philippine Deposit Receipts through ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation to foreigners, violating the law.
“This simply means mass media companies operating in the Philippines must be 100% Filipino owned as they play an integral role in a nation’s economic, political and socio-cultural landscape, ” he said.
Early in his term, Duterte accused ABS-CBN, whose franchise expires on March 30, of failing to air his campaign advertisements and not returning the payments.
He has repeatedly vowed to block any new licence, and a proposed law that would give ABS-CBN a 25-year operating permit has gathered dust in Congress since 2016.
Duterte taunted the network in a speech in December, telling the owners to sell it.
“ABS-CBN, your contract is about to expire. If I were you, you’re better off selling it, ” he said. “I will make sure that you will remember this episode of our times forever.”
The government has used the same accusation about foreign ownership against news website Rappler, which in 2018 had its licence revoked in a decision currently under appeal.
The website has faced legal charges over its critical reporting.
“It’s a clear indication that this government will do everything it can to shut ABS-CBN down, ” Nonoy Espina, chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said.
“If they shut ABS-CBN down, then that’s one big voice lost and it will make it easier for them to start shutting down the other voices they do not agree with, ” he added. — AFP/Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN