Gov’t should stop ABC-5, ABS-CBN merger

It looks like the ABS-CBN broadcasting empire will not hesitate to circumvent the Constitution and existing laws just to get back in the lucrative free television circuit.

Under Philippine law, a broadcast facility cannot operate without a franchise issued by Congress.

After the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN expired in 2020, the network brazenly tried to continue operating its free television Channel 2 even without a franchise. ABS-CBN’s illegal broadcasts ended after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order against the network.

Soon after that, ABS-CBN filed with Congress its application for a new legislative franchise. The application was denied.

ABS-CBN used its entire propaganda arsenal to denounce Congress for its refusal to issue a new franchise to the network. The network and individuals with vested interests in the continued operations of the network mindlessly accused Congress and the NTC of violating press freedom.

Actor Coco Martin was among the ABS-CBN stakeholders who publicly invoked press freedom without bothering to understand the legal aspects of the constitutional right.

ABS-CBN eventually filed a petition in the Supreme Court to compel Congress to issue a new franchise to the network, but the SC ruled that the power of Congress not to renew a franchise is beyond judicial review, and that the non-renewal of the network’s franchise is not a violation of press freedom.

That ruling notwithstanding, ABS-CBN entered into a so-called “blocktimer” deal with Zoe Television, a broadcast facility operated by the family of Senator Joel Villanueva, whose partylist group Cibac conveniently ignores the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

The deal led to a new name for Zoe, namely, A2Z TV, with A symbolizing ABS-CBN; 2 for Channel 2; and Z for Zoe.

This newspaper has consistently exposed that the “blocktimer” deal between Zoe and ABS-CBN is illegal because the legislative franchise of Zoe prohibits it from sharing its franchise with another broadcast entity without the prior permission of Congress. No such permission has been sought.

The “blocktimer” deal is a sham because a blocktimer is supposed to buy only a portion of the broadcast hours of a network. ABS-CBN is a blocktimer only in name, because practically all of the programs aired daily on A2Z TV are produced by ABS-CBN. Even the channel’s name was changed to A2Z TV to accommodate ABS-CBN.

Through A2Z TV, ABS-CBN is now back on the air, in defiance of Congress and the law, thanks to its illegal deal with Zoe.

ABS-CBN apparently wants more.

About a week ago, the ABC broadcast network, now known as TV5, announced its de facto merger with ABS-CBN. Under the deal, MediaQuest Holdings, the owner of TV5, will share the ownership of the TV5 network with ABS-CBN on a 65-35 ratio in favor of MediaQuest.

Industrialist Manuel V. Pangilinan owns MediaQuest. ABS-CBN is owned by the wealthy Lopez family.

Congress should enter the picture and stop ABS-CBN, TV-5 and Zoe from mocking the Constitution and violating the legislative franchises it issued to TV5 and Zoe. Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to revoke the existing franchise of a broadcast network when the common good demands it.

As stated earlier, Zoe violated its own legislative franchise when it allowed ABS-CBN to virtually take over the operations of its television facility without prior permission from Congress.

Likewise, the planned de facto merger of TV5 and ABS-CBN will be a violation of TV5’s legislative franchise, which prohibits TV5 from sharing its franchise with another broadcast entity without the prior approval of Congress.

The electromagnetic spectrum, on which broadcast operations are dependent, belongs to the people and its use is subject to state regulation. If entities like ABS-CBN, TV5 and Zoe refuse to comply with their respective legislative franchises, the common good will be best served if Congress revokes those franchises.

It’s about time that these broadcast networks are made to follow the Constitution and the law.

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