House panel denies ABS-CBN’s bid for fresh franchise

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 5) — ABS-CBN will stay off the air as a House of Representatives panel denied its application for a fresh 25-year franchise.

In an overwhelming 70-11 vote, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises adopted the report of its technical working group not to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise. Three other lawmakers inhibited during the panel’s meeting attended by 85 members physically and via teleconferencing amid the coronavirus crisis.

The TWG's report maintained that ABS-CBN does not deserve to resume broadcast operations due to various issues, including the dual citizenship of its chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, alleged tax-avoidance schemes, failure to regularize its employees, and biased reporting, among others tbings.

ABS-CBN had refuted the allegations hurled against it. It has acknowledged that it is "not a perfect company," and appealed to lawmakers for a chance to be better.

"We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission," ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak said in a statement following the panel's vote.

"Together with our employees and our audiences all over the world, we share in your sadness over this setback," he said. "We look forward to the day when we can again reunite under our broadcast."

Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said the panel’s decision effectively “killed” ABS-CBN’s franchise bid at the House of Representatives, calling it a “historic moment.” He has criticized ABS-CBN for being owned by the Lopezes, whom he branded oligarchs.

With its continued shutdown, the Kapamilya network had said it may start laying off some of its 11,000 workers by August.

House Minority Leader Benny Abante told CNN Philippines that the media giant can file a motion for reconsideration. Lawmakers can also file a new bill seeking a new franchise for the network once Congress resumes session on July 27, he said.

READ: How lawmakers voted on ABS-CBN's franchise bid

Not a press freedom issue?

The legislative franchises committee, in the TWG report obtained by the media, stressed that the decision to deny ABS-CBN a franchise “is in no way related to the freedom of the press." It said it was just “a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.”

READ: Senators believe ABS-CBN fate sets ‘dangerous’ precedent on future media franchises

President Rodrigo Duterte had publicly threatened ABS-CBN over the network's refusal to carry his campaign commercials in 2016, but later accepted its apology.

Malacañang said it had no hand in the decision of the congressional panel, which is dominated by the President’s allies

"The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches government. Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano in a separate statement said the hearings were "fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive," and urged the public to read their findings.

Long fight for a franchise

The lower chamber in late May began tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise application following online and on-ground appeals from netizens, employees, lawmakers, and rights groups.

The House leadership earlier refused to discuss network's application, citing more pressing matters, until the franchise expired and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered the network to stop broadcast operations.

ABS-CBN has a pending petition before the Supreme Court against NTC's cease and desist order.

The digital TV transmissions of Lopez-owned Sky Direct as well as of TV Plus programs have also been halted in line with a June 30 NTC order.

READ: ABS-CBN, Sky Direct shutdown to further dampen investor sentiment towards PH – Fitch Solutions

The network's digital platforms— including online news websites, video streaming services, and social media sites— have continued to operate. It also has a pending petition at the Supreme Court against NTC's cease and desist order.

Ging Reyes, head of ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs, said they will continue to deliver news through the limited platforms available to them.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.