Church leaders in the Philippines have expressed concern over the possible impact of the closure of television network ABS-CBN, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic.
ABS-CBN went off the air on May 5 after the Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission ordered it from broadcasting for lack of the necessary government franchise.
The television network’s 25-year congressional franchise expired on May 4. The media giant has applied for its renewal but Congress failed to act on it.
More than 70 radio and television stations and frequencies under the network’s franchise across the country have gone off the air.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, alleged that the move against ABS-CBN is “politically motivated, no matter what justification is forwarded by the government.”
“It is a brazen exercise of power to show who is in charge, using the law and its technicalities as a tool of control,” said the prelate. “In doing so, freedom of information in this country is threatened,” he said.
Bishop Pabillo said ABS-CBN going off air sends a “chilling message” to other media organizations that they “should kowtow to those in power or else they will be brought down.”
“But we do not allow this to happen,” added the bishop. “We the citizens know what is the motive of this action. We are not defending ABS-CBN. We are defending press freedom,” he said.
He said people should defend freedom “because the grip of power is getting tighter around us.”
“We are already choking! The specter of martial law is coming up,” he said.
Media needed during pandemic
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said mass media as source of information “is much needed” as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
He described the government decision to stop the airing of ABS-CBN as “untimely and a disservice.” The bishop said the television network has been a “very effective and efficient source of information.”
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza expressed his support to the media network, especially to about 11,000 workers who are affected by the shutdown.
“I join my voice in protest … on behalf of our journalists and thousands of workers affected by such decision at a time when we are facing this COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to cope with its effect on people, especially the labor force,” he said.
The prelate said there should be a “remedy” to whatever legal issues “that will not further aggravate the plight of thousands of workers that will be added to the growing number of Filipino gravely affected by this pandemic.”
Bishop Jose Elmer Mangalinao of Bayombong said the move to shut down the media network is “plain and simple curtailment of press freedom.”
Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the United Methodist Church said the government should not have stopped ABS-CBN’s broadcast “because they are serving the Filipino people in various ways.”
“If [the government] extended those who have expired their franchises, why not extend the ABS-CBN franchise? Congress should have acted on it before it expires,” said the Protestant bishop.
Bishop Redeemer Yañez of the Philippine Independent Church said the closure order is “untimely because we need up-to-date news.”
“I wonder why the government was such in a hurry shutting the network down?” he said.
Authorities gave the media network 10 days to respond to the National Telecommunications Commission before a hearing on the issued will be scheduled.