ONE light less in community broadcast journalism.
This was how the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) described the final broadcasts aired by the ABS-CBN regional stations via Facebook and YouTube last Aug. 28.
After more than 30 years of covering communities through the local newscasts of the “TV Patrol” news program, 21 stations of the Regional Network Group (RNG) signed off after Congress denied on July 10 the ABS-CBN Corp.’s application due to what the Congress considered as “numerous violations” carried out under the previous franchise, which expired on May 4.
Without a franchise, the ABS-CBN Corp. has been retrenching hundreds of its more than 11,000 employees since July. After making their final newscasts on Aug. 28, hundreds of RNG employees swelled the ranks of the unemployed in the country, in the midst of a pandemic and recession.
The closure of the ABS-CBN provincial stations also drew the reactions of the NUJP and the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, which underscored the “loss of a fast and credible source of news,” especially for communities that are not reached by other media, according to the groups’ separate statements released to the public.
The country’s history underscores the importance of a free and independent media in informing and making Filipinos vigilant and prepared in crises, whether due to natural causes or instigated by people.
When President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, the ABS-CBN Corp. was among the media companies that were locked down. Marcos seized the company from the Lopez family and turned over its broadcast facility to three media groups: Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS-9, renamed as Radio Philippines Network), Banahaw Broadcasting Corp. (BBC-2) and the state-owned Government Television (GTV-4).
KBS/RPN-9 and the now-defunct BBC-2 are owned by Roberto Benedicto, a Marcos crony.
Posing as a “social reformer fighting the old oligarchy,” Marcos vowed to tear down “the oligarchs of old, who controlled the media,” wrote Alfred McCoy, quoting President Marcos, in the former’s essay prefacing the National Book Award winner for social sciences, “An Anarchy of Families.”
In actuality, Marcos replaced the old oligarchy with his own. The “Marcos dictatorship,” from 1965 to 1986, institutionalized “crony capitalism,” wrote McCoy.
For instance, Benedicto was president of the Nasutra, “the national sugar-trading monopoly,” and Negros Occidental regional vice president of Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. The Benedicto-owned KBS/RPN-9 was the only media company allowed to operate during the martial law.
A media-literate citizenry has emerged from the country’s crises. Media scholar Elizabeth L. Enriquez wrote in her book, “Appropriation of Colonial Broadcasting,” that Philippine radio emerged as a dominant post-war force emphasizing news and public affairs after the Filipinos’ heroic use of radio signals to resist the Japanese invaders, particularly in the ideological arena of winning the Filipinos’ hearts and minds.
Enriquez observed that while wartime engraved in the Filipino consciousness the “western values of individualism, free speech, freedom and the American brand of democracy,” others also were quick to exploit the “political power of radio.”
Enriquez traced how the coveted power to grant broadcast franchises was transferred from the pre-war Radio Control Office to the Office of the Philippine President in 1945.
“In 1950, Congress appropriated the power and used it to exploit radio’s political potential as well as to grant political and economic powers,” wrote Enriquez.
This “dangerous proposition” that the state can control media should be checked and resisted by a media-literate citizenry, vigilant and fearless in calling for accountability from the powerful, expressing particularly the sentiments of the powerless and resisting the free flow of information.