Amid the uncertainties and dangers, newsrooms in the country have dedicated their meager resources to the continued coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As if these challenges during these difficult and dangerous times weren’t enough, the Philippine government, through the House committee on legislative franchises, denied ABS-CBN’s franchise bid on Friday, finally shutting down the network’s free-to-air radio and television stations.
Aside from the 11,000 workers of ABS-CBN who will lose their jobs, this attack against the free press will also deny millions of Filipinos from accessing critical life-saving information during this pandemic that continues to rage. Filipinos in the far-flung villages and remote areas who rely on ABS-CBN due to the network’s wide reach nationwide have been deprived of much needed news and entertainment.
Information is an essential commodity at this time, and the silencing of an influential media network will have a chilling effect on journalists around the country.
The role of the media now has never been more important – they inform the public and hold the government officials accountable, especially during this crisis.
The shutdown of ABS-CBN is a big blow to democracy, and an existential threat to press freedom in the country. Considering the recent conviction of Rappler chief executive editor Maria Ressa and a former staff by a Manila court for cyber libel, the message to media practitioners and networks in the country has become crystal clear.
Toe the line or you are next. The 70 lawmakers who denied ABS-CBN a franchise have made it clear they regard the press as a propaganda machine that will serve their political interests, embellish their image, and parrot their spin.
These are indeed turbulent times for the Philippine media.*