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In Focus: How ABS-CBN's Shutdown Represents A 'Chilling Effect'

In Focus: How ABS-CBN's Shutdown Represents A 'Chilling Effect'

The Philippines has long been known as one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, tallying fifth at the Global Impunity Index that New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released last year.

This fact still seems to stand, even as government members dissed ABS-CBN's franchise non-renewal as a press freedom issue. While there's been a lot of jargon mentioned on the effects of the Kapamilya network's shutdown, one thing sticks out that perhaps needs to be expounded on: That whatever happened represents a "chilling effect."

[related: In Focus: How ABS-CBN's Biggest Rival GMA & Its Artists Decried Franchise Denial]

A chilling effect, defined by Merriam-Webster, is a "usually undesirable discouraging effect or influence." In legal terms, ths term refers to how certain rights become likewise deterred under the threat of legal punishment.

In the context of Philippine press, many journalists and media and society experts believe shutting down the country's biggest media network inadvertently forced a chilling effect on other similarly resistant news and media platforms.

But as University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Associate Dean Rachel Khan argued, the chilling effect caused by the ABS-CBN shutdown is counterintuitive in a supposed democracy.

ABS-CBN, as a key piece of the media, also known as the "fourth estate," exists in order to maintain a balance over the other "estates" (i.e., the branches of government) in society, she said.

"Kasama ang media sa check and balance sa isang demokrasya, (The media plays a part in a democracy's checks and balances system)," she told Teleradyo.

"Ang trabaho [ng media] ay maging watchdog ng lipunan, magbigay ng impormasyon sa mga nangyayari, at mag-broadcast ng anomalya, at hindi maging public relations ng gobyerno ng gobyerno at politiko. (The media's job is to be society's watchdog, providing information on what's happening around including anomalies. It's never to serve any government or politician as its public relations arm)," she continued.

[related: On Our Radar: Kapamilya Stars Sentimental As Congress Denies ABS-CBN Franchise]

A chilling effect also works toward the rest of society slowly and quietly such that it also pokes at rights to free speech.

The earlier criminal verdict on Rappler's Maria Ressa, a known Duterte critic herself, has revealed a silhouette of this effect.

A month ago, the online news site's co-founder and chief executive officer Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr were convicted guilty with cyberlibel. They were charged for Santos' May 2012 article, which alleged businessman Wilfredo Keng's links to human trafficking and drug smuggling.

Keng filed the case using a typographical correction or "republication" as grounds, even if the Cybercrime Prevention Act only took effect four months following the original publication.

"We are meant to be a cautionary tale. We are meant to make you afraid," Ressa said at a presscon post-conviction on June 14.

"Tignan po natin ang mga nangyayari sa kapaligiran natin ngayon, noh?," she added. "Yung shutdown po ng ABS-CBN, that would have been unthinkable before this time. It has happened."

Ressa and Santos are both on bail pending appeal and could six years in prison.

[related: In Focus: Kapamilya Innovations—Glittering Television & More For 65 Years And Counting]

As one of Asia's most storied media companies, ABS-CBN seemed to be an influential force—a company whose services brimmed with value to many that its shutdown was inconceivable. But if a company as large and powerful as ABS-CBN could be taken down allegedly via politically motivated suppression and manipulation, then how much more would that hold on anyone else smaller?

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Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News




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