Philippines Orders Leading TV Network to Halt Operations

Philippines Orders Leading TV Network to Halt Operations
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Philippines' ABS-CBN Corp., which frequently criticized President Rodrigo Duterte, was ordered to stop operating because its license expired; critics call the move an assault on press freedom.

The Philippine government has ordered a leading television network to cease operations, sparking accusations the move was an assault on independent media.

The National Telecommunications Commission said Tuesday it ordered ABS-CBN Corp., which frequently criticized President Rodrigo Duterte, to stop operating because its 25-year license expired on May 4.

The order came as the country works to contain the spread of the coronavirus and people increasingly rely on news organizations to inform them about the pandemic.

"Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on TV and radio tonight when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the Covid-19 pandemic," the network said in a statement.

Legislators and media watchdogs have also denounced the order, which the media giant said it has 10 days to respond to.

The network’s renewal application is pending in Congress but the massive coronavirus lockdown has contributed in a delay in hearings.

Areas of the Philippines have been on strict lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Last month, President Duterte warned citizens during a televised address that police would “shoot them dead” if they defied the lockdown orders.

Media watchdogs have accused the Duterte administration of silencing independent media organizations that have produced unfavorable reports of Dutere’s actions and polices, including his deadly anti-drugs campaign that has resulted in the deaths of primarily poor suspects.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said the order is “another attack against press freedom in the Philippines, at a time when access to information is most vital.”

She also decried Solicitor-General Jose Calida’s request in February that the Supreme Court invalidate the television network’s franchises and a subsidiary in another attempt to halt the company’s operations for supposedly violating the country’s prohibition on foreign ownership of Philippine media outlets and abusing its franchises.

“It is particularly concerning that the pressure to close down the network comes from the country's Solicitor General, who threatened to prosecute the NTC should ABS-CBN be granted a provisional license,” Shamini said. “The Department of Justice and several legislators had earlier recommended the granting of a provisional license, pending Congress' decision on franchise renewal.”

While government officials denied the order was an attempt to stifle press freedom, the government also accused the online news organization, Rappler, of violating a law that prohibits foreign ownership. Rappler has denied any wrongdoing and continues to operate.

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The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Voice of America.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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