By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter
ABS-CBN Corp. asked the Supreme Court (SC) to deny the petition of the state lawyer to issue a gag order to prohibit statements on the quo warranto case, claiming it is a violation of rights to free speech and free press.
In its comment, which the court sought from ABS-CBN, the network said the government failed to show how the reports it published created a “clear and present danger of impairing the proceedings before this Honorable Court.”
It said that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) only quoted portions of the said reports and listed down the links of the 31 articles it cited.
“No danger is, however, apparent from a mere perusal of the publication,” it said.
“To presume that the members of the Honorable Court would be unable to render impartial judgement merely because of public discussion of the issues involved in the Petition is to diminish their intelligence, experience and independent thought,” it added.
The network also said that there is no prior restraint on expression aside from four exceptions, namely: pornography, false or misleading advertisement, advocacy of imminent lawless action and danger to national security. It said that these exceptions are not present in the publications cited by the OSG as tending to influence the court.
It also said that 13 of the 31 news articles listed by the OSG were published before the filing of the quo warranto petition, the legal action that requires the network to show what authority it has for exercising its franchise.
“The Republic claims that a gag order is necessary to insulate the Members of this Honorable Court from public statements that would tend to influence them in deciding the Petition. However, apart from making general allegations, the Republic has not shown a clear and present danger of the substantive evils it supposedly seeks to prevent,” it said.
The OSG filed a quo warranto petition seeking the cancellation of the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corp. and ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. for supposedly violating the laws on foreign ownership restriction and for operating a pay-per-view channel, among others.
It subsequently filed a motion for the issuance of a gag order to stop ABS-CBN from releasing statements on the merits of the case. It alleged that the network is engaging in propaganda by releasing reports and videos that tend to sway public opinion and influence the resolution of the court.
The network said the gag order, which sought to prohibit parties and those acting on their behalf from releasing statements discussing the merits of the case, is “undoubtedly vague.”
If the gag order is granted, the network said it doubts whether it can comply without violating its franchise, which prohibits it from requiring censorship of speech. It also doubts whether the order can be enforced on its employees.
ABS-CBN said it is just performing its mandate under its franchise on public information and dissemination, and that a gag order will “impair the people’s constitutional right to information on matters of public concern.”
“The sub judice rule should not be applied to impair, through prior restraint, the fundamental freedoms of speech and of the press that serve as bedrocks of a democratic society. The sub judice rule may be enforced through contempt proceedings to punish contumacious conduct,” it said.
The Senate on Monday tackled the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, which President Rodrigo R. Duterte threatened to shut down.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said that ABS-CBN may continue operating without the approval of Congress. He said lawmakers could file a resolution authorizing the National Telecommunications Commission to issue provisional authority to ABS-CBN.
Regulators also cleared the broadcasting giant of its alleged franchise violations.