Philippines broadcaster ABS-CBN denied licence renewal

Thousands could lose jobs

The renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise was voted out with the help of the Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte in the House of Representatives on July 10. The denial of licence extension will affirm the earlier government order to shut down the largest television network in Philippines.

Widely criticized as an attack on press freedom, accusations of personal vendetta being carried out against the news organization by the Duterte government are pouring in.  ABS-CBN has been critical of President Duterte’s government in the past which includes a refusal to broadcast Duterte’s campaign ads in 2016.

A total of 12 public hearings and a testimony established that the channel did not violate any legal provisions; nevertheless a thumping majority of the committee members denied the news organisation’s request.

Ahead of the vote, Carlos Zarate, a minority House member, made a last-minute plea for approval saying, “Why would we punish a company that did not breach our laws?” But Rodante Marcoleta, a majority member of the House and one of the channel’s fiercest critics, said regardless of the legal argument in favour of ABS-CBN, “it is the will of Congress that should be accorded due respect”, whether they vote for or against, said an Al Jazeera report.

Alan Peter Cayetano, House Speaker, who had earlier accused ABS-CBN of “biased” reporting during the 2016 presidential campaign, argued that it is “not press freedom” that is at stake, it is a question of the media protecting its own business interests.

Defending the channel’s news reporting standards, Ging Reyes, ABS-CBN News and current affairs chief, called this as a move that denies millions of Filipinos access to information, “The shutdown has deprived more than 69 million Filipinos of the kind of information, analysis and commentary, and public service provided by ABS-CBN News. It has cut off our reach such that two out of three viewers are unable to watch our news programmes,” Reyes said.

Thousands of employees will be unemployed with this closure. ABS-CBN has  11,000 permanent and freelance contract workers employed with them.

Three out of four Filipinos wanted Philippine lawmakers to renew a 25-year license for the country’s top broadcaster, a survey by a private pollster showed. A nationwide mobile phone survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that 75% of adult Filipinos had agreed that “Congress should renew the franchise so that ABS-CBN can broadcast its programs again”. The survey also found 56% agreed that the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise was “a major blow to press freedom”.

Earlier this year Maria Ressa, the head of online news website Rappler, was charged and found guilty of libel. A prosecution that was pursued after an extensive reportage on President Duterte’s war on drugs and his administration’s role on spreading fake news by the website.

The Philippines ranks 136 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.

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