Revitalizing the fourth estate of our democracy

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

When the Duterte administration, through the House of Representatives, shut down network giant ABS-CBN by refusing to extend its franchise, there was a palpable sense of gloom and trepidation among many Filipinos. .

The closure occurred just weeks after the first announcement of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since ABS-CBN had generally criticized the Duterte administration’s pandemic response and its war on drugs, the denial of the franchise was seen as an attack on press freedom and a successful attempt by the President Rodrigo Duterte to silence his critics.

To the shock of millions, the final blow was struck on May 4, 2020, just one day after the global commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.

With the closure, a dozen premises TV Patrol news bulletins broadcasting information in dialects were also forced to close. Thus, there followed a lack of information for Filipinos living in remote rural areas – numbering about 3 million – who relied solely on ABS-CBN for the news. According to Ruperto Nicdao, the President of the Philippines, Ruperto Nicdao, millions of Filipinos simply “signed off from television” when ABS-CBN was forced off the air.

This became particularly crucial during calamities – no other television and radio network had the same reach and influence, and the internet infrastructure was not, and still is not, adequate or even absent altogether. , to provide the necessary information.

This has been the state of things for 27 months.

So, if we are to trust the reports that ABS-CBN has partnered with TV5, we have reason to hope that what audiences, and even the broadcast industry ecosystem, have missed, may soon regenerate into the next dominant news channel. and entertainment.

In an investment deal announced last week, Lopez-owned ABS-CBN has acquired a 34.99% stake in TV5 and has the option to acquire up to 49.92% in the future. Mogul Manuel Pangilinan’s MediaQuest will remain majority owner.

The proceeds from the sale of shares, amounting to 2.16 billion pesos, will finance TV5’s capital expenditure and operating expenses to improve its content and programming.

The investment agreement also includes the acquisition by Cignal Cable Corp. of Pangilinan of 38.88% of Sky Cable Corp. by Lopez.

Rep. Gus Tambunting, chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Suffrage, said in a recent interview with Radyo ng Bayan that the deal is really just a business venture in which a legitimate television network, with a channel and a franchise, partnered with a former television. network which is known for providing quality and popular content.

“From a business point of view,” he said, “it makes a lot of sense to make room for the old leader network. It can be a very good business. One has the airspace , the other carries the content.

At least two advocacy groups have also released statements regarding the agreement between the two networks. CitizenWatch claims that this will ultimately benefit the Filipino people and improve the quality of Filipino entertainment and public service.

Meanwhile, according to Bantay Konsyumer, Kalsada, Kuryente (BK3), the merger is an opportunity to create a credible new brand of public service that would not only provide entertainment but hopefully become a means of developing the education and good values, freely available to Filipinos wherever they are in the archipelago.

BK3 adds, “The merged creative and production pools of the two networks also give us hope for higher quality programming that entertains, yes, but also educates and encourages critical thinking in viewers, especially young people.”

The agreement between ABS-CBN News and TV5 is an encouraging development for Filipinos, who will once again have access to quality news and programs. More importantly, the deal mitigates the “chilling effect” created by what many observers saw as a whimsical and vengeful act by the previous administration when it shut down ABS-CBN more than two years ago. .

The media is called “The Fourth Estate” for a reason. It has a unique and specific function in a democratic society. Its practitioners, trained in the rigors of journalism and imbued with a sense of public service rather than personal gain or glory, accomplish valuable good by holding public officials – servants of the people – accountable for their words and deeds. .

When these public officials feel offended by criticism and then retaliate by shutting down a media outlet, that is never good for a democracy. When people and organizations fear something bad will happen to them when they speak out, it distorts the very essence of a free society.

Democracy thrives on acquiescence and dissent, the free exchange of views and the civilized recognition of everyone’s inherent freedom of expression. The return to free-to-air television of ABS-CBN’s known brand of professional, fearless reporting and commentary makes us a little more confident that better, or at least more reasonable, times are ahead.

For now, the cold and apprehension have been replaced by hope.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the President of the Stratbase ADR Institute.