Failure to cover

Posted by watchmen
November 9, 2020
Posted in OPINION

Slowly trickling in are photographs of the devastation of Catanduanes and the rest of the Bicol region that stood directly in the path of super typhoon “Rolly.” 

Live media coverage had been next to impossible.

It was clearly a job for the outfit that has the most extensive network, trained manpower, modern if not almost amphibious equipment, and enough props to brave the rain, wind, and flying debris. Live coverage brings information that can save lives and channel help to those who need it as disaster strikes.

The typhoon tilted westward and spared the National Capital Region, but still wrought extensive damage on Batangas and Laguna despite having substantially weakened after making landfall in Bicol.

The resulting estimated P1-billion damage on field and crops strikes a further blow on an economy that has been roped in a corner by the still raging coronavirus pandemic.

The news and public affairs team of ABS-CBN has been covering our storm cycle for decades. Its absence in the air is palpable in the context of what is touted to be the strongest typhoon to hit the earth in 2020.

Frontline government agencies that perform disaster management functions had grown to heavily rely on the network’s extensive coverage in their repair and quick-relief operations. But this time ABS-CBN was noticeably absent from free TV and AM radio, media that it dominated only five months ago. Its regional bureaus had to shut down as a purely digital platform cannot sustain enough funding for such operations.

The ABS-CBN franchise was “killed” by Congress with six thrusts – Gabby Lopez’s doubtful allegiance to the Philippines, ABS-CBN’s possible violation of the prohibition against mass media ownership or management by foreigners, alleged numerous violations of its franchise, questionable tax avoidance schemes, apparent use of a dummy, and less than exemplary labor practices.

It was among the longer running fault-finding hearings of a congressional committee in recent memory, comparable to the justice committee hearings on the love interests of Sen. Leila de Lima and the complaints seeking the impeachment of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

It was a fact-finding only insofar as members of the House of Representatives searched for material by which to hang the network.

Thus, while admitting that the Supreme Court has yet to rule on questions relating to full Filipino ownership and management of mass media, it nonetheless went on to deny the franchise application based on Lopez’s dual citizenship and ABS-CBN Holdings’ alleged failure to exercise full beneficial ownership over Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) held by foreigners.

You would know government is after you when the full gamut of administrative regulations is trained towards your organization. Tax, labor, social security, corporate compliance, etc., are pressure points that are normally being attended to by erring businesses in the daily course of their existence. Government checks, and the private corporation corrects.

The flipside is that some of these shortcomings may be cherry-picked and used to justify persecution, prosecution, and in the case of ABS-CBN, the outright denial of its franchise if only to achieve a political purpose.

The problem with the giant broadcast network is that it has become exactly that – a behemoth by Philippine standards. This is what politicians fear. This trepidation was expressed by Congress itself when it acknowledged in the TWG report it adopted that “mass media plays a very important role in elections and can be used to disrupt free, orderly and honest elections.”

That is essentially double-speak for what has become unvarnished truth. Politicians are afraid of the magnifying lens that mass media provides to the people. Mass media cannot be given too much power as to be able to influence voter behavior. Media exposés of shenanigans can lead to defeat at the polls.

Media organizations are an essential nongovernmental check on government behavior. They must be valued in working democracies. And not only that. As typhoon “Rolly” has shown, they are an essential cog in disaster mitigation and response./WDJ

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