The Republic Act 7966, which granted ABS-CBN's franchise a 25-year license from March 30, 1995, will expire shortly. While earlier expectations were that CBS-ABN’s licence would expire on March 30, it is now thought that the current licence could remain in place until May 4, 2020. Since 2014, several bills to renew ABS-CBN franchise for the next 25 years were filed in the House of Representatives but none have been deliberated on. Once the bill has passed through the Philippines Congress, it must then go to the president, Rodrigo Duterte, for final sign-off.
An investigation by Rappler revealed that Congress gave quick approval for all national broadcast firms, except for ABS-CBN. Duterte’s well-known personal vendetta against ABS-CBN has been amplified by noted threats that ABS-CBN will be “out” in 2020.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, one of Duterte’s campaign managers in his 2016 election run, recently filed a challenge before the Supreme Court to cancel the ABS-CBN franchise agreement, alleging the broadcaster had unlawfully exercised its franchise.
On February 24, Senator Christopher Go, Duterte's former aide, revealed Duterte’s political motivations to shut down ABS-CBN stemmed from the company’s discretion to make its own decisions on what political ads it would air during the 2016 campaign. “If you are mean to the President, he will be meaner to you. If you are nice to the President, then he will be nicer to you. If you want fair reporting, then you ought to report the truth about why the President was hurt,” Go said.At the Senate hearing, Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN's CEO, apologized to the president and clarified that the media giant was able to air all the national ads ordered by Duterte's campaign team and that the anti-Duterte ad paid for by Antonio Trillanes IV was covered by the Fair Election Act. Duterte later said that he would accept the apology but that he was leaving the ABS-CBN franchise issue to Congress.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a member of the SEAJU network, has led a nationwide campaign alongside journalists, activists and students to demand the renewal of ABS-CBN. NUJP has submitted a partial list of petitioners calling for the franchise renewal to the House of Representatives. The partial list contains at least 200,000 signatures from petitioners in Metro Manila and an online petition.
SEAJU said: “The anger of one person, even if he happens to be the most powerful in the land, is no justification for closure and, as far as we know, negative campaign ads are legal. The closure of ABS-CBN will doubtless create a chilling effect through the Philippine media community that will dampen critical reporting and greatly diminishing the quality of information delivered to the people.”
The IFJ said: “Any attempt by Congress to delay the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise is a public attack on press freedom. The whole world is now watching on the outcome of this significant press freedom case. The IFJ encourages the government to promptly renew the franchise to prevent unnecessary stress on journalists and their families.”