Bangkok, May 5, 2020 — Philippine authorities should allow the ABS-CBN network to resume broadcasting and should not let political considerations affect administrative decisions regarding media outlets’ licenses, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The National Telecommunications Commission, the country’s broadcast regulator, ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting and “cease and desist” operations today, after its 25-year franchise agreement with Congress expired last night, according to news reports.
“Philippine regulators should reverse their closure order against ABS-CBN and allow the news broadcaster to continue operating until its application for a new franchise is decided by Congress,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “ABS-CBN serves a crucial role in keeping Filipinos informed, not least during the COVID-19 crisis. It should be allowed to continue broadcasting the news.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly threatened that his government would not renew the franchise agreement, as CPJ has documented. ABS-CBN has broadcasted award-winning critical reports on domestic terrorism, Duterte’s war on drugs, and other sensitive topics.
The regulator’s order will remain in place until Congress makes a decision on the network’s franchise renewal application; 11 bills related to that renewal are pending in Congress, the Philippine Inquirer reported.
The network went off the air at 7:52 pm today, after airing its primetime TV Patrol newscast, Rappler reported.
A House of Representatives committee on legislative franchises said it would summon the National Telecommunications Commission to explain the closure order, according to a report by ABS-CBN.
Hearings on the network’s renewal application have been delayed in part by the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, which has put the capital under a strict lockdown, according to news reports.
ABS-CBN said in a statement, “We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best interest of the Filipino people in mind.”
CPJ emailed the solicitor general’s office and Martin Andanar, secretary of the presidential communications office, for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.