Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday slammed the involvement of mass media companies in elections and politics in general, saying that it is not how “press freedom” works.

Cayetano made the remark as the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability conclude their joint deliberations on the ABS-CBN franchise issue.

According to Cayetano, while lawmakers would all agree that press freedom must be protected, they may disagree from “whom” and “how” this freedom is safeguarded.

“How shall we decide on claims that it will be a blow to press freedom if the owners of a private media corporation is denied the privilege of using public airwaves for a private business that protects their interest and supports their handpicked candidates, while targeting those who oppose them?” he said.

“I submit that this is not press freedom. It is the theft of government from the people while hiding under the pretense of press freedom,” he added.

According to Cayetano, there is nothing new in using the media for propaganda, adding that it was even used during the Marcos dictatorship to affect how people viewed the relationship between the government and the media industry.

“But even as we guard against the abuses of public officials, the peculiar and sacred place that the ‘free press’ holds in our consciousness blinds us to the fact that big business is just as likely to use media to mold public opinions and perceptions as the meanest tyrant,” he added.

Cayetano said that big business involved in commercial media must not be allowed to engage in partisan politics and let them use their powers to protect their interest, interfere in the elections, and support certain candidates “in the guise of reporting the news.”

Anakalusugan party-list Representative Mike Defensor made a similar manifestation as he talked about “dismantling” oligarchies in the country.

He pointed out that these oligarchies are small groups of people who “control” the state.

“Ang malalaking negosyante sa ating bansa ay patuloy na namamayagpag. Nag-iiba ang pulitiko, nag-iiba ang liderato, pero ang interes sa kanilang negosyo ay patuloy,” he said.

“They say that the vote for the continuance or at least the granting of a franchise to ABS-CBN is a suppression of press freedom. But I say that a yes vote to stop the franchise is a vote to stop perpetuation of an oligarchy that continues to suppress our people,” he added.

The House joint panels have wrapped up their deliberations on the ABS-CBN franchise issue after 12 lengthy hearings.

Cayetano has urged his fellow lawmakers to vote in accordance to their conscience and on how they appreciate the hearings on the matter.

“The House leadership would like to reiterate that each vote must and will be based on the appreciation of the facts as they have been presented by both sides during these exhaustive proceedings, as well as the application of the relevant laws and public policy,” he said.

The House legislative franchises panel is set to meet on Friday to discuss the output of the technical working group tasked to study and draft recommendations to the ABS-CBN franchise application.

Panel chair Franz Alvarez, however, has yet to announce a final schedule for the voting. — BM, GMA News