Philippine TV network’s shutdown amid pandemic sparks uproar

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Philippine church and business leaders expressed alarm on Wednesday at the closure of a government agency for the country's largest TV and radio network, which has been a major provider of news about the coronavirus pandemic.

International observers condemned the closure of ABS-CBN Corp., which President Rodrigo Duterte sought in the past for its critical coverage, as a major blow to press freedom in an Asian bastion of democracy.


The National Telecommunications Commission ordered the media giant to stop operating after its 25-year franchise at the congress ended on Monday. He reversed a statement to Congress that he would issue a temporary permit while lawmakers evaluate a franchise renewal. Only the Chamber of Deputies can grant or revoke this franchise and its hearings have been postponed, in part by a coronavirus block.

In a reflection of the extent of discomfort with the disconnection from the network, which exploded on Tuesday night, both the opposition and Duterte's main allies questioned the commission's action.

Vice President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition, said that the timely dissemination of accurate information saves lives in a crisis and galvanizes national unity.


"The closure of ABS-CBN costs lives, in addition to unnecessarily burdening the thousands who will lose their jobs," she said.

Deputy Franz Alvarez, who belongs to a pro-Duterte coalition and heads the Chamber's Legislative Franchise Committee, said the telecommunications commission's order "is a clear violation of the Chamber's jurisdiction."


Alvarez told ABS-CBN radio station DZMM that commission officials told parliamentarians at the hearing that they would issue a temporary operating license to ABS-CBN while the franchise renewal was pending, based on Department of Justice guidelines.

"We are really surprised that they have stepped back and need to explain," Alvarez told DZMM before it also aired on Tuesday.

The Makati Business Club, a prestigious group of top business executives, said the closure of the chain was a setback for national unity in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.

Amnesty International in the Philippines said the closure order was an "outrageous attack" on press freedom and asked the government to immediately bring the network back online.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of the Philippines, protested the closure "on behalf of journalists and thousands of workers affected by the decision" as they struggled to deal with contagion.

ABS-CBN has more than 11,000 news and production employees across the country. In addition to reporting the coronavirus, which has already infected nearly 10,000 people and killed 637 in the Philippines, it also provided trucks with food and medical assistance.

Media watchmen accused Duterte and his government of gagging the independent media, such as ABS-CBN, who reported criticism on issues such as the president's anti-drug crackdown, in which thousands of drug suspects were killed. Government officials denied that the closure was a matter of press freedom, insisting that everyone must comply with the law.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Tuesday that ABS-CBN was free to seek legal solutions and added that Duterte left his fate in Congress.

However, before the franchise expired, Attorney General José Calida asked the Supreme Court in February to revoke the operating franchises of ABS-CBN and a subsidiary in a separate attempt to shut down the company for allegedly abusing its franchises and violating a ban. constitutional copyright. foreign investment in Filipino media. ABS-CBN denied the charges.

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