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ABS-CBN head of news says journalists are suffering but confident network will be back on air

“Their apprehension can come in the form of a real serious question, or sometimes in the form of a joke, but it has had a subconscious effect every time they go out, every time they do an interview.”

In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), ABS-CBN’s head of news Regina “Ging” Reyes said she had a “journalist’s premonition” that nothing good would happen the day before the NTC issued a cease and desist order against the media giant on May 5.

ABS-CBN is losing around P30 to P35 million a day and “Up to now, that screen is black.”

ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal application remains pending in Congress.

In the past, President Rodrigo Duterte has said many times that he will see to it that ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal won’t be granted. This was before forgiving the network for not airing one of his 2016 presidential campaign advertisements, however, the franchise bills are still languishing in Congress.

The current administration has accused ABS-CBN of being biased against the president. For instance, ABS-CBN heavily criticized the war on drugs campaign which has taken over 7,000 lives, mostly petty criminals and street children. But Duterte’s spokespeople have said that the media giant’s shutdown is legal and not political.

Even with the shutdown, ABS-CBN has been able to maintain various news programs not covered by the franchise through its digital channel and online streaming. However, its free-to-air nationwide TV channel is what makes up most of the revenue.

The network’s TV and radio reporters are still updating the public on the latest news and “we are trying to maintain our operations for as long as we can, but I do not know if it will be sustainable.”

CEO Carlo Katigbak has mentioned earlier that the company’s employees will keep their jobs for the next three months but retrenchment will happen by August if things won’t better.

“…there is a heavy burden that we all carry that people will soon lose their jobs and that is just sad.”

The shut down has “been a chilling attack on our press freedom rights. Maybe that was not the intent of some people because they really believed it was a matter of enforcing the law but the cease and desist order has intimidated our journalists and the news organization.”

Reporters of the company are often worried when they report news, sometimes they are even anxious.

“They are worried that a story they were doing might land the company in more trouble or might cost us the franchise.

“Their apprehension can come in the form of a real serious question, or sometimes in the form of a joke, but it has had a subconscious effect every time they go out, every time they do an interview.”

Some journalists have also been denied information at certain events due to the fact that the station is still off the air which also doesn’t make the application of a new franchise easier.

TV Patrol was the most viewed news program in the country before the shutdown with a lot of areas only having ABS-CBN to rely on.

“We now lack the finances to do other aspects [of the news], so now we cannot produce documentaries or long-form productions of stories that we want to delve more deeply into and analyze.

“We have practically stopped all production of our current affairs program, which is also very useful in making the public aware of issues that affect them,” she added.

Because of COVID-19, only a few reporters are allowed to work at the same time to avoid the possible spreading of the disease. Reyes had to lay out guidelines on how the journalists should operate, such as observing health measures when gathering information.

“So we were already operating under a crisis situation [before the closure]. I was very concerned about getting enough information, so sometime in April I modified the guidelines and by this time we were able to get personal protective equipment and I gave our journalists more latitude in covering some danger zones, because before I didn’t want them to go near hospitals and emergency rooms.

“But recently we decided that it wasn’t enough for us to just be outside the area where this is happening.”

The press freedom in the country has been attacked ever since the 2016 presidential run and “we have seen a sinister, concentrated attempt by some bad actors to really paint or portray legitimate media organizations in a negative light.”

“We’ve seen attacks on media by social media armies that have been dangerous and sustained.”

“The situation came to a head in the beginning of the year when the solicitor general filed a petition against our company questioning the validity of the franchise itself.”

“That charge [has not been decided on by the high court], but since then it’s been one piece of bad news after another. Finally, our CEO was served and to us working in the news it was really something that hurt. We felt it was the start of something darker.” Reyes said when asked to elaborate on her “journalist’s premonition” remark.

Reyes obviously wants ABS-CBN back on the air and believes that “the freedoms we fought for more than 30 years ago [against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship] will win out.”

“However, in the near term, I know it will get worse before it gets better. I know that our [company] leadership is doing its best to put ABS-CBN back on the air. We are prepared to defend the company and the network against critics and naysayers.

“But this has become a highly politicized matter and I am hoping that the public that ABS-CBN has served in so many ways for so many years would support us and not just stand idly by and allow this shutdown to continue.

“While I want to be hopeful, I also am very worried about how other forces will see it differently and take advantage of the situation, ” she said.

Written by Charles Teves

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