Press Freedom and Personal Interests

The role of media is to provide information and clarification on social and political events; not to build public opinion leaning towards a political personality and party.

Freedom of the press is a constitutionally protected right under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that "no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

Critics of the President have cited numerous violations of press freedom due to the purported harassment by the administration of media giant ABS-CBN and online news outfit Rappler. With the impending expiration of ABS-CBN's franchise to operate on 31 March and the perceived non-action of the House on pending bills to renew the network's franchise, supporters of the media network have gone as far as labelling such action/inaction as a "move to kill free speech" in the country.

Is press freedom in the Philippines under severe threat or are its private owners under threat to lose societal power and influence?

The power of media is undeniable. Some even claim that it has the capacity to make Presidents and position parties into power. Some even say that it is today’s "fourth branch of government" because of its wide reach and influence. As proof of its power, many national and local candidates spend billions of campaign funds for commercials and advertisements.

In 2010, throngs of artists of ABS-CBN came out to support the candidacy of Former President Noynoy Aquino. The avalanche of support from the network's stars and personalities translated to Aquino's landslide victory in the 2010 Presidential polls. It is important to note that ABS-CBN was able to rebroadcast on September 1986, months after the first People Power that installed Cory Aquino into the Presidency, and 14 years after its operations were seized during the Martial Law era. It is quite understandable that the station owed a debt of gratitude to the Aquinos, hence its unofficial support.

In 2016, President Duterte accused ABS-CBN of not airing his paid advertisements worth about Php 7 million. Although the network's President and CEO clarified the matter and issued an apology, it is still unclear why an anti-Duterte ad featuring children went on air, even with the token explanation offered by the station’s management. To this day, the network continues to claim that it has no political agenda and does not favor any political figure/party.

We remain a staunch supporter and vanguard of press freedom and freedom of speech. However, leaving it to private entities to self-regulate, and for KBP, MTRCB and other agencies to castigate abuses have clearly not worked in ensuring fair, transparent and unbiased facts presentation and reporting.

Reading the President's language, he is seeking media reform. Whether this is to his own benefit or not is something I leave for others to judge. At the end of the day, ABS-CBN and other networks owe it to the Filipino to provide fair, transparent and unbiased public service.

The role of media is to provide information and clarification on social and political events; not to build public opinion leaning towards a political personality and party.

About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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