News is big business. It’s for the big boys, not for journalists who always seek the truth. Its operations are a multi-million pesos business. And journalists can’t afford it.

It is not easy to run a news organization, a national daily newspaper or an integrated broadcast network with  nationwide reach.

The news, more importantly, is also about public interest.

It provides the only vital commodity in the 21st century – information.

Decision-makers and the public need timely, reliable, relevant and accurate information to make, understand, support or reject policies.

Thus, various interest groups, including big business and the government, attempt to interfere with news operations to shape favorable public opinion and build credible and reputable images.

In a democracy, a free, vibrant and independent press, or news media, is necessary to serve as a watchdog to call out government and business if they overstep rules or become negligent in the performance of their sworn duties.

However, in reality and in practice, this is not happening. In some cases, the media act as publicists and apologists for both the government and big business.

Even in the free world, like in the United States and Western Europe where the independent press is championed, media have succumbed to pressures.

And in the Philippines, where a free press is guaranteed by the constitution, the same pressures are felt.

The closure of the country’s largest broadcast network is a case in point. True, ABS-CBN continues to broadcast news in different social media platforms and on cable TV.

But that is far from the ideal. There are many limitations in broadcasting through social media platforms because not all Filipinos have an internet connection.

Not everyone can afford cable television and not all areas in the Philippines have electricity. During typhoons and other natural calamities, a transistor radio powered by dry cell batteries can access radio frequency signals in the AM band.

It is a great disservice to the public to shut down ABS-CBN as there are instances in some remote areas that it is the only source of information and entertainment for people, particularly at a time when the country faces threats from a deadly pandemic and a strong typhoon.

Any attempt to silence the media at the height of a public emergency is an attack on the press, an attack on free expression and an attack on democracy.

Some people defended the government’s strong and harsh action against ABS-CBN, saying the regulatory agency was just implementing the law after the Lopez family-controlled broadcast network’s 25-year franchise expired on May 4.

Some even blamed the corporate owners who controlled the TV-radio giant, for challenging a popular leader and siding with the political opposition during the presidential election campaign in 2016.

Supporters of the president applauded him for bringing down an arrogant oligarch who stood on the wrong side of the fence.

But the Lopez family is now a shadow of its old self. There was a time long ago when it used to dominate both business and politics.

When the Philippines emerged from the ashes of the Second World War until dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in 1972, the family was the kingmaker.

Marcos dismantled the family’s business empire and crippled its political clout. With one stroke of a pen, the family lost everything – including its broadcast station ABS-CBN and its newspaper, the Manila Chronicle.

The family regained and rebuilt ABS-CBN and briefly re-published the Manila Chronicle after Marcos was removed by a nearly bloodless popular uprising in 1986.

But it never re-acquired its political and business standing. The Lopez family has remained one of the most prominent and richest clans in the Philippines, but it has dropped from the country’s billionaires list.

In its latest list, Forbes magazine included several Chinese-Filipino tycoons, the Zobel de Ayalas, and Danding Cojuangco of San Miguel Corp.

The Lopez family never recovered from the luster of its business and politics after the mass media massacre of 1972 when Marcos shut down the entire industry.

When newspapers and broadcast stations returned weeks later, they were operated by his cronies who deliberately avoided criticizing the government and promoted only propaganda.

Marcos became a template for leaders who have risen to power after the democratic space was re-established by Cory Aquino in 1986. But his fall from power did not stop others from following him to attempt to muzzle and control a nosy and critical press.

In 1999, for instance, then president Joseph Estrada forced another tycoon, the late John Gokongwei, and his family to unload their shares and pass control of the Manila Times to another businessman friendly with his administration, to protect the family’s crown jewels.

Big businesses have long used the news media to expand their political influence. There was an old saying newspapers in the pre-martial law days were like guns in the holsters of their owners.

They use their own newspapers to launch attacks on rivals and opponents and to defend themselves from attacks from their adversaries. This has been a practice in the country, with few exceptions.

When the Lopez family sold Manila Chronicle in 1994, the new owners handed down a new directive to editors and journalists, listing down a number of “sacred cows” they should not attack.

In fairness to the Gokongweis, the family gave Manila Times editors a lot of leeway and editorial independence, even to the point of criticizing the family’s companies for violations of environmental law.

The only time Lance Gokongwei entered the Manila Times newsroom on Pioneer Street in Mandaluyong and began looking over the shoulders of the editors was when then President Estrada sued the newspaper for libel in July 1999 for a power contract story.

The Gokongweis, of course, caved in to political pressures as this could threaten the family’s heavily regulated businesses, like airlines, telecommunications and energy.

Media ownership is the biggest challenge for journalists in the Philippines. Journalists have been struggling every day to keep their independence, integrity and freedom. They have to face pressure from media owners who hold the purse, more than politicians and the government.

It would be easier to resist the government’s meddling but it would be next to impossible to stop any interference from media owners.

Sometimes, journalists are given no other option but quit to keep their integrity and independence as they battle not only government restrictions but also self-censorship imposed by media owners who fear retribution from authorities.

Censorship happens everywhere. Independent journalists have to deal with these pressures every day. Journalists cannot win in every battle. They must choose when to fight, when to compromise and when to make a tactical retreat and accept defeat in some battles in order to win wars at the end.

In the case of ABS-CBN, this is a battle in which all Filipino journalists must unite.

There is one legal and political battle that must be won both in the courts and in the halls of Congress.

This is the repeal of a 1931 law as pointed out by lawyer Gilbert Andres of Center Law, which lumps the media with other public utilities required to obtain a congressional franchise.

Andres pointed out that radio and television should not be covered by any legislative franchise along with power, water and telecommunications services, which are allowed 40 percent foreign ownership.

A radio and television company must be 100 percent Filipino owned and for the media to remain truly free as guaranteed by the constitution, it must be free from any interference and political pressures through franchises.

Government and big business must stop meddling with the media. It must allow the press to operate freely and independently, and practice its role as a responsible watchdog.