Bangkok, December 5, 2019 — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his government should not show bias in renewing broadcasters’ licenses and should cease threatening the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 3, Duterte threatened ABS-CBN, a privately owned news network whose franchise agreement is due to expire on March 30, 2020, saying, “Your franchise will end next year. If you expect it to be renewed, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out,” according to a report by Philippine news website Rappler.
Five bills have been filed with the country’s legislature to extend the broadcaster’s franchise, according to a report by CNN, but lawmakers said today that they will not vote on the measure until next year, according to local daily BusinessMirror.
Previously, Duterte accused ABS-CBN of “swindling” him for not airing his paid political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign, and in 2018 he threatened to deny the network’s renewal as he approved the franchise renewal of the GMA Network, its rival, according to Rappler.
If the franchise agreement is not renewed, ABS-CBN’s television and radio channels will have to cease broadcasting, according to Rappler.
“Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte should walk back his politicized threat to shut down news broadcaster ABS-CBN, and should steer clear of intervening in its franchise renewal,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Duterte’s threats aim to encourage self-censorship, and must stop now.”
ABS-CBN’s current franchise agreement was enacted in 1995; if renewed, it would be valid for another 25 years, according to BusinessMirror.
ABS-CBN has published critical reports on Duterte’s war on drugs campaign, domestic terrorism, and other sensitive topics.
CPJ called the Presidential Spokesman’s Office for comment on Duterte’s remarks, but no one answered.
Duterte’s government has previously used its regulatory powers to stifle media; in January 2018, the Duterte administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s certificate of incorporation for violating a regulation that local media must be locally owned and operated, as CPJ reported at the time. This March, authorities arrested and briefly detained Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for allegedly violating that regulation, according to news reports.
Ressa received CPJ’s 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in acknowledgement of her bravery in reporting in the face of official harassment.