HomeFilipino AmericanPhilippine government shuts down ABS-CBN network critical of Duterte regime
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Philippine government shuts down ABS-CBN network critical of Duterte regime

Filipinos protests the closure of the giant Philippine broadcasting network.

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Subscribers to The Filipino Channel will still be able to watch their favorite soaps and game shows, most of which come from the Philippines, despite the network’s mother company going dark on Tuesday.

The channel is the international subsidiary to ABS-CBN, the largest broadcasting network in the Philippines. It airs programming aimed at the Philippine diaspora of millions of Filipinos in the US, Canada and other parts of the world.

Ironically, the day after World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, the license to broadcast ended for ABS-CBN, the Philippines largest media giant. The Solicitor General ordered the broadcasting network to shut down, effective immediately. The station went dark for its viewers in the Philippines after the last news show “signed off,” Tuesday evening.

“TFC assures its many subscribers around the world that it will remain and continue to deliver relevant news and information, TV shows and movies across our different channels and platforms via cable and satellite, IPTV, and TFC Online,” the embattled network said in an statement.

“We will continue our commitment to be of service to Filipinos, worldwide,” the short statement concluded.

TFC operates several bureaus throughout the US and Canada that provides local programming of community events, local news and programming produced in the Philippines. The bureaus have been major sponsors of cultural events organized by Filipino American and Canadian communities, such as the Philippine Independence Day celebrations that have attracted thousands of Filipinos seeking a connection to their homeland or the homeland of their parents or grandparents.

The media corporation is owned by the prominent Lopez family of the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has been at odds with the network since his 2016 campaign. Duterte accused the company of not running his campaign commercials.

Besides the broadcast network, Duterte has also attacked several media outlets, including Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler Holdings Corp., for their reporting on his drug war that has killed thousands with Duterte’s open season on suspected drug dealers.

The Philippines’ Solicitor General Jose Calida alleges that the ABS-CBN had issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners, raising questions about foreign ownership of the broadcast and print giant, which is against the Philippine Constitution. 

Since those assertions arose, the network’s foreign investors sold their shares to Filipino investors. Legislation granting the network its license has been stalled in the Duterete-controlled House of Representatives for several months.

In a May 5 letter sent by the NTC, ABS-CBN was ordered to stop operating all of its free TV and radio stations across the country. The network’s 25-year franchise expired on Monday, May 4.

The National Tellecommunications Commission stressed that, based on the radio control law, no person or company may operate any radio or TV broadcasting station without a congressional franchise.

“We have done all the requirements for renewal, and we have not violated any laws,” ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak said in a live broadcast minutes before its main television channel went off the air Tuesday evening.

The government action came as a surprise to the lawmakers in both houses of Congress. On March 10 the NTC committed to legislators that they would grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to broadcast, while Congress tackles the bill for a new franchise for ABS-CBN.

“Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom… The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom,” Amnesty International’s Philippines section director Butch Olano said in a statement.

“This latest move against ABS-CBN occurs after repeated attacks in the past against the network by President Duterte himself. It is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic.”

Duterte is reportedly “completely neutral” on the issue of ABS-CBN’s shutdown, his spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday in a television interview.

The threat to the network drew protests from Filipino Americans during the 34th anniversary of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines that brought down the Marcos dictatorship. 

A show of solidarity came from the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, or NFFAA, the Asian community of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance, the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance and the Fil-Am Press Club.

They said that it was the people that brought back democracy then — that same united force will fight for freedom of speech under the Duterte administration.

“ABS-CBN and TFC are a significant media resource whose importance to the Filipino American community cannot be overstated,” the National Federation of Filipino American Associations said in a statement. “As a Filipino news and media entity dedicated to artistic and journalistic excellence, they thoughtfully bridge the gap between the Philippines and its diverse diaspora across the United States and the world.

“Since the founding of NaFFAA, ABS-CBN has been a consistent and strong collaborative partner in NaFFAA’s efforts to empower Filipino Americans. They have helped further NaFFAA’s mission through support of programs such as the Biennial National Empowerment Conference, through TFCUniversity (TFCU), and Kollective Hustle.”

Human rights and journalist groups have slammed the sudden closure, with Amnesty International calling it a “dark day for press freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies.” “Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom,” the group added. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) likewise reiterated the need for freedom of the free press in its statement, saying, “mainstream media, particularly ABS-CBN, have been vital to combatting the virus of fake news and have been instrumental to giving the most neglected sectors in this health crisis a voice.”

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