Philippines orders leading TV network to halt operations

Elias Hubbard
May 5, 2020

A Philippine government agency has ordered the country's leading broadcast network, which the president has targeted for its critical news coverage, to halt operations.

Congress, however, has barely touched on ABS-CBN's bid for a fresh franchise, with the House - where all franchise bills must first pass - only holding one hearing on the matter where they largely set ground rules on how to proceed with future hearings.

The National Telecommunications Commission said ABS-CBN's 25-year congressional license expired on May 4.

ABS-CBN's online assets like its news, entertainment and sports websites can continue to deliver content. ABS-CBN's cable news channel and digital operations will continue, albeit with a limited reach. "The message is clear".

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said it was alarming that ABS-CBN was ordered to stop its operations in the middle of the pandemic.

Media watchdogs have accused President Rodrigo Duterte and his aides of muzzling independent media like ABS-CBN that have critically reported on issues including the president's bloody anti-drugs crackdown, which has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead. "The delivery of timely and correct information is essential to our COVID-19 response. This shutdown order goes against public welfare", Hontiveros said. Congressional leaders have asked the commission to grant it a temporary license to continue operations while its renewal request is pending, but the government's solicitor general has said it can not operate without an approved franchise. Many senators and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra have agreed that the broadcaster could operate with a temporary license pending renewal of its franchise. In 2018, he said he will block the renewal of the network's franchise.

Aside from its battle in the legislature, ABS-CBN also stands to duel with the Office of the Solicitor General before the Supreme Court, where a petition seeking to nullify the network's existing franchise is still pending. "In the service of the Filipino", they wrote, echoing the network's tagline, "we remain".

Duterte is notorious for tangling with media outlets critical of his policies, sparking concern that press freedoms are under threat in the Philippines. The government has also leveled various charges - including allegations of cyber-libel and tax evasion - against the news site Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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