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ABS-CBN: Gag order will violate rights to free speech, press
February 25, 2020
A gag order on government lawyers’ case seeking the forfeiture of ABS-CBN’s franchise will violate press freedom and the right to free speech, the network told the Supreme Court (SC).
After alleging “highly abusive practices” on the part of the media company, Solicitor General Jose Calida urged the SC to prohibit the parties and “persons acting on their behalf from releasing any statements discussing the merits” of his petition for quo warranto.
He said reports and “commentaries” published by ABS-CBN on the quo warranto case violated the sub judice rule, which prohibits parties from publicly discussing the merits of pending cases to avoid their prejudging.
But in its comment to Calida’s motion, ABS-CBN said the sought gag order would constitute prior restraint, or “official government restrictions on the press or other forms of expression in advance of actual publication or dissemination.”
The network’s lawyers said none of the publications assailed by Calida fall under the exceptions to the rule against prior restraint: pornography, false or misleading advertisement, advocacy of imminent lawless action, and danger to national security.
They noted that the requested gag order involves “content-based” prior restraint and thus “bears a heavy presumption of invalidity” that they claimed Calida’s office failed to disprove.
“The Republic simply quoted select portions of the subject publications and listed down the website links of 31 articles. No danger is, however, apparent from a mere perusal of the publications,” ABS-CBN said.
“To presume that Members of the Honorable Court would be unable to render impartial judgment merely because of public discussion of the issues involved in the Petition is to diminish their intelligence, experience and independent thought,” it added.
‘Analysis, commentaries not propaganda’
ABS-CBN also argued that it merely performed its mandate under its franchise to “assist in the functions of public information and dissemination.”
It denied it released propaganda, saying “analysis and commentaries play a significant role in broadcasting.”
“The people’s right to be informed does not end after the filing of the Petition but continues throughout the case,” the network said. “Corollarily, ABS-CBN has the duty to provide the public, information on the issues so long as they are pending.”
The network also claimed the sought gag order is “vague and overbroad,” creating a “chilling effect because an ordinary person would not know whether his speech is prohibited by the gag order and may simply restrain himself from speaking in order to avoid being held liable for his speech.”
ABS-CBN said it is “doubtful” whether it could comply with a gag order without violating its franchise, which bars it from “requir[ing] any previous censorship” in material it will broadcast.
“It is likewise doubtful whether ABS-CBN can enforce the gag order on its employees, who stand to lose their jobs should ABS-CBN cease from operations,” the company said.
ABS-CBN has also answered the Office of the Solicitor General’s allegations in the quo warranto petition.
The network’s franchise is due to expire on May 4. Congress has yet to act on bills seeking its renewal.
— RSJ, GMA News