ABS-CBN: Gag order a form of prior restraint

Beleaguered television giant ABS-CBN on Monday filed its comment on the Office of the Solicitor General’s plea for the issuance of a gag order before the Supreme Court.

The network stressed the gag order was a form of prior restraint that violates freedom of expression and of the press.

According to ABS-CBN, there were only four instances wherein prior restraint is permissible: (1) pornography, (2) false or misleading advertisement, (3) advocacy of imminent lawless action, and (4) danger to national security.

“None of which were present in ABS-CBN’s reports which consisted only of official statements, news reports about the petition and possible consequences as well as commentaries, opinions or reactions from stakeholders, public personalities and resource persons, ” it said.

Furthermore, ABS-CBN noted that the gag order sought by the OSG before the high court was vague, stressing that it was not clear who will be covered by the order.

“Will the gag order apply to the entire Filipino people? The government is part of the Republic. Will all government officials and employees be covered by the gag order?,” ABS-CBN asked.

“’Persons acting on their behalf’ is also vague. Would anyone making public statements in favor or against a party be acting on their behalf?” it added.

At the same time, ABS-CBN belied the OSG’s allegation that it was engaged in propaganda, saying its intent was only to provide the information to the public on matters with public concern.

“The Republic recognizes ABS-CBN as one of the biggest broadcasting companies in the Philippines. Thus, a gag order against ABS-CBN would be a huge disservice to the Filipino people as it would deprive them of a vital source of information on a matter of ‘transcendental importance,” it said.

“The people’s trust in the justice system is enhanced not by stifling public debate on important issues, but by demonstrating the judiciary’s ability to render independent judgment without impairing fundamental rights,” it continued.

Last week, the OSG asked the high court to issue a gag order requiring parties in the quo warranto petition filed against television giant ABS-CBN to refrain from publicly discussing the suit’s merits.

In a ‘Very Urgent Motion for Issuance of Gag Order, the OSG disclosed that ABS-CBN has engaged in’ media propaganda’ since the quo warranto suit, which sought to nullify the franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., was filed before the high court last February 10.

The OSG motion noted the airing of videos, and commentaries of ABS-CBN artists and personalities explaining and reviewing the petition.

Last February 10, a “Very Urgent Omnibus Motion” which was personally filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, urged the high court to forfeit the franchises of ABS-CBN and ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., saying “they are unlawfully exercising their legislative franchises.”

Also, the OSG stressed the petition was meant to stop the alleged “abusive practices” of ABS CBN.

“We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers. These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years,” Calida said in a statement.

The ABS-CBN franchise is set to expire this March, and bills are pending before the Senate and House of Representatives to have this extended.

On numerous occasions, President Duterte threatened to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, accusing the network of biased reporting and riling against its failure to air his political advertisement during the 2016 campaign.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the granting of a franchise to television and radio companies is a power lodged in Congress

International group Human Rights Watch decried President Duterte’s moves blocking the franchise renewal, taking it as a curtailment of press freedom. The group added that lawmakers should remain “independent” from the President’s whims. #

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