‘Cease and Desist’ . . .
ABS-CBN, Philippines’ major TV broadcaster, was shut down after the Congress failed to approve the renewal of its license before the expiry deadline on Monday. Following the expiration of the license, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a ‘cease-and-desist order’ to ABS-CBN on Tuesday, forcing it to shut down. The license renewal had been delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and the regulator walked back from the initial stance that all licenses expiring during the lockdown period would be provisionally renewed after the Solicitor General clarified that the NTC does not have the authority to issue a provisional license. Considering the strained relationship between the Duterte administration and the media, allegations of political interference have surfaced.
President Duterte’s disdain for the media . . .
Since coming into power in 2016, President Duterte has repeatedly expressed his disdain of the media and ABS-CBN in particular. For instance, President Duterte accused the network for not airing his political advertisements before the 2016 presidential election, which ABS-CBN has denied. The network has closely covered President Duterte’s war on drugs, which has resulted in extrajudicial killings and flagrant violations of human rights. Other media platforms have faced substantial pressure from the Duterte administration as well. Last year, Rappler, which is also critical of the President, faced a lawsuit on violations regarding foreign ownership, leading to the arrest of its CEO Maria Ressa.
Press Freedom under attack during COVID . . .
ABS-CBN’s shutdown comes as Philippines and other governments continue to restrict press freedom in the name of emergency. In a report released by the International Press Institute, there have been 50 cases of journalists around the world being threatened or attacked due to their COVID-19 coverage. In Asia, specifically, the Institute has found 13 cases of arrests or charges, 9 verbal or physical attacks, and 9 cases of censorship, among other violations of press freedom. In this context, the shutdown of ABS-CBN raises concerns, whether it was done intentionally or not.
- Al Jazeera: Targeted by Duterte, future of Philippines’ ABS-CBN in balance
- International Press Institute: WPFD 2020: COVID-19 accelerating a global decline in media freedom
- The New York Times: Philippine lawmakers vow to get broadcast giant ABS-CBN back on air