Duterte Shuts Down Philippines’ Largest TV Network ABS-CBN

A vehicle enters the property of the broadcast network ABS-CBN on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Manila, Philippines. A government agency has ordered ABS-CBN, the country's leading broadcast network, which the president has targeted for its critical news coverage, to halt operations. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) Use Information This content is …
AP Photo/Aaron Favila

The government of the Philippines ordered ABS-CBN, the nation’s largest television network, to cease operations on Tuesday after the Philippine Congress refused to renew the station’s license, Philippine news outlet Rappler reported.

The Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a “cease and desist” order to ABS-CBN on Tuesday afternoon, ordering the network to halt its operations after its license expired on Monday, May 4. ABS-CBN went off the air soon after.

Critics accuse Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of influencing his lawmaker allies to vote against the license renewal. Duterte’s personal vendetta against ABS-CBN dates back to 2016 when he was elected president. He accuses the network of refusing to air his campaign advertisements during the 2016 election, according to Rappler.

Since then, the president has repeatedly threatened to shut down ABS-CBN. According to Duterte, the network has demonstrated bias against his administration, and its coverage negatively portrays his government and policies, including his controversial “war on drugs,” which has killed thousands of people.

ABS-CBN is the largest entertainment and media conglomerate in the Philippines. It is owned by the Lopez family, one of the richest families in the country, who Duterte refers to as “oligarchs,” according to Rappler’s report.

In December 2019, Duterte foreshadowed this week’s developments, suggesting that the Lopez family might be wise to “sell” the network. “ABS-CBN, your contract will expire. You want to renew, but I don’t know if that will happen. If I were you, I’d sell it,” the president said at a press conference on December 30.

The Philippines’ House of Representatives, full of Duterte’s political allies, is responsible for issuing and renewing licenses. A number of bills for ABS-CBN’s license renewal have been pending since 2019, but critics accuse Congress of prioritizing other legislation, allowing the license to expire, Rappler reports.

ABS-CBN has ten days from May 5, when it received the “cease and desist” order, to respond “and explain why the frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled” Rappler reports. After ABS-CBN files a response, a hearing should be scheduled. The hearing cannot take place until after the current lockdown of Manila and the island of Luzon is lifted. Duterte recently extended the lockdown until May 15, meant to curb the spread of coronavirus.

On Wednesday, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba appeared before the Philippine congress and told legislators that the commission could issue a “provisional authority” allowing ABS-CBN to remain on-air, pending the recommendation of Congress, ABS-CBN’s online news site reported on Wednesday.

Duterte has also targeted other news organizations, like Rappler, for what he considers biased coverage of his administration. Rappler’s founder, Maria Ressa, has been arrested at the urging of Duterte, accused of allegedly operating a company owned by non-Philippine citizens, considered a crime in the Philippines. Ressa denies the charges against her and claims that the president’s actions amount to an attack on freedom of the press.

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