His Excellency Rodrigo Duterte
President of the Philippines
Malacañang Palace Compound
J.P. Laurel Street
San Miguel, Manila
Sent via email
Dear President Duterte,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom organization, call on you to exercise your executive authority to reverse the order to close news broadcaster ABS-CBN. We are dismayed by your efforts to influence the franchise renewal application now pending in Congress, and ask that you refrain from such efforts going forward.
On May 5, the National Telecommunications Commission regulator ordered ABS-CBN, your country’s biggest and most widely watched news broadcaster, to “cease and desist” operations after its 25-year franchise agreement expired the previous day.
The closure order amounts to an attack on the independent media and a clear and present danger to press freedom in the Philippines.
On May 4, the day before the closure order, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that ABS-CBN could continue its operations with a provisional license while Congress deliberates its renewal request. House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said days earlier that Congress had “instructed” the National Telecommunications Commission that ABS-CBN “should continue to broadcast” while its application was pending. He said Congress had “no intention to order their closure, to shut them down, or take advantage of the situation.”
While you have denied having any role in the decision, you have publicly targeted the station in the past. Last December, you were quoted in media reports 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.”
That threat came as ABS-CBN was producing award-winning journalism, including a ground-breaking report on your government’s controversial war on drugs.
ABS-CBN’s closure follows your government’s wider campaign to stifle independent reporting in the name of “upholding the law.” That includes but is not confined to the legal actions your government has pursued against online news group Rappler and its founding editor Maria Ressa. CPJ bestowed Ressa its Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in 2018 in recognition of her bravery in the face of your government’s threats.
ABS-CBN’s unbiased and independent reporting serves a crucial role in keeping the Philippine public informed, a role that has become all the more important during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Your government’s order to shutter the broadcaster has deprived the public of crucial news and information when they most need it.
CPJ calls on you to reverse the decision to shut down ABS-CBN immediately. We also continue our call for you to cease and desist your campaign against independent media and journalists, which is eroding press freedom in your country.