ABS CBN: Major Philippines broadcaster regularly criticized by President Duterte forced off air

The media company ABS-CBN, known for its unparalleled coverage of the Duterte administration, was ordered to shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) after the broadcast license, granted by the Philippine Congress, expired on Tuesday.

It comes after lawmakers failed to pick up a handful of bills over the past six months that would allow ABS-CBN to continue operating under a new license. Allies of Duterte is currently controlling both houses of the Philippines Parliament.
The order for ABS-CBN to cease operations comes just as much from the Philippines, including Metro Manila, stays under string lock, as the country tries to contain the spread of coronavirus. To date, the Philippines has reported nearly 10,000 cases and more than 600 virus deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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"Millions of Filipinos will lose the source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to leave on TV and radio tonight … People need important and up-to-date information when the nation deals with the Covid-19 pandemic," ABS -CBN like that in a statement Tuesday.

According to CNN Philippines, the decision not to renew ABS-CBN's license marks the first time the broadcaster has been forced out of the air since September 1972, when then-President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law.

In a statement on Facebook, the Foreign Correspondents' Association of the Philippines condemned the refusal to renew the broadcaster's license, saying it threatened press freedom "at a time when the public needs an unreleased press the most."

"As the Philippines is helping from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, ABS-CBN's critical eye is now needed even more than ever to help inform the public," the statement said, adding the decision to "is clearly a case of political harassment."

Supporters gather in front of ABS-CBN's May 5 headquarters in Manila, Philippines.
Since becoming president in June 2016, Duterte has threatened and dispersed the country's media repeatedly, accusing outlets for creating "fake news" and referring to journalists as "spies" and "sons of bitches."
ABS-CBN has been particularly attacked because of its critical coverage of Duterte's brutal "war on drugs", which has resulted in more than 6,600 people dead since began in June 2016, according to police records.
Duterte has often threatened to take ABS-CBN off the air, including during a swirling ceremony in November 2019 when he said they would be "out" by 2020, according to CNN Philippines.

“If you expect [a renewal], Sorry. You're out. I'll make sure you're out, "Duterte said at the time.

But in an interview with the Philippine television network ABS News Channel (ANC), Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque belittled the role of the president's office in the media company's problems.


"He is really neutral and [wants] to let all his allies know that he will not hold it against them. It will not love him in any way. They can vote as they please, he said Tuesday.

The decision on whether to renew the station's license or not has been with the Philippines by the House of Representatives for more than six months, with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who previously promised in October to deal with the case by the end of 2019.
Although 11 bills was introduced to renew the 25-year license, according to the Philippines News Agency (PNA), no renewal was made until it expired.
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This is what the National Union of Journalists of Philippines said in a statement on Twitter that failure to renew the license sent "a clear message."

"What Duterte wants, Duterte gets … And it is clear, with this bold move to shut down ABS-CBN, that he intends to silence the critical media and scare everyone else into submission," states that in the statement.


Several attempts by the company and lawmakers to receive provisional broadcasting authority were unsuccessful, according to a statement from the company, which prompted NTC to issue a cease and desist letter to ABS-CBN.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri told the PNA cessation and resignation were "irregular and undue" during the coronavirus pandemic. "I'm really sorry about the move by NTC. We can mention many cases when NTC provided preliminary authority for those still applying for franchise service," he said.

ABS-CBN was founded in 1953 and is one of the most so TV stations in the Philippines, delivers both news and entertainment programs while hiring around 11,000 people.

The cease and desist order covers all of the network's 42 TV stations, 10 digital broadcast channels and 23 radio stations, according to PNA.

ABS-CBN is not the first news organization to experience problems operating in the Philippines during the Duterte administration.

Several top executives in upstart media company Rappler, a vocal critic of President Duterte, were arrested in 2019. Managing Director Maria Ressa was charged with breach of anti-dummy law, securities fraud laws.
Ressa claimed her arrest was a politically motivated act by the Duterte administration to calm her down. "If you're a reporter in the Philippines, this is part of everyday life. It's like air pollution," she said in an interview with CNN.

On Tuesday, ABS-CBN said that they had been assured that there was no movement in the work to permanently close the net, and they intended to continue to offer a service to the Philippines as soon as they could.


"We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best of the Philippines in mind and recognize the role and efforts of ABS-CBN to provide the latest news and information during these challenging times," the company said in the statement.

In a speech with the PNA, several senators said they did not see renewal as a problem in the future, but did not provide a timeline for when it could take place.

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