Duterte Rejects License Renewal for Philippines’ Largest Media Network

This view shows the ABS-CBN network headquarters in Quezon City in the Metro Manila area on May 5, 2020. - The Philippines' top broadcaster ABS-CBN on May 5 was ordered off the air over a stalled operating licence renewal, drawing fresh charges that authorities were cracking down on press freedom. …
MARIA TAN/AFP via Getty Images

Lawmakers in the Philippines rejected on Friday the license renewal for ABS-CBN, the nation’s top news broadcaster, local news outlet Coconuts Manila reported.

The Philippine House of Representatives voted to reject ABS-CBN’s request to renew a 25-year license, leaving an estimated 11,000 employees in danger of losing their jobs on Friday. On May 4, ABS-CBN’s network license expired. The next day, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government ordered the network off the air. Duterte had long held a grudge against ABS-CBN, reportedly for failing to air his political advertisements during the 2016 campaign that elected him president. Duterte critics accuse him of leveraging his allies in the legislature to vote against ABS-CBN’s license renewal.

One week after the May 5 shutdown, the House of Representatives granted ABS-CBN a temporary license to operate, “which would have allowed them to resume broadcast in June if it were approved by … Duterte. But several days later, the House moved to drop the provisional license, saying it would instead resume the network’s franchise hearings,” Coconuts Manila reported.

Duterte had publicly declared on multiple occasions that he would block any attempts by ABS-CBN to renew its license. He pointed to its refusal to air his campaign ads in 2016, as well as the network’s alleged bias against his administration in its news coverage.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called Friday “a black day for media freedom.” He described the vote to reject the license renewal as “an astounding display of obsequious behavior” by Philippine lawmakers bowing to Duterte. “This move solidifies the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte,” he said, according to Reuters.

ABS-CBN continues to operate “online, on cable, and on social media,” which are not impacted by the rejection of the franchise renewal, according to the report.

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