Media company ABS-CBN, known for its unflinching coverage of the Duterte administration, was ordered to close by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) after its broadcast license, which is granted by the Congress of the Philippines, expired on Tuesday.
According to CNN Philippines, the decision not to renew ABS-CBN’s license marks the first time the broadcaster has been forced off the air since September 1972, when then-President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law.
“As the Philippines reels from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, ABS-CBN’s critical eye is needed now more than ever to help inform the public,” the statement said, adding the decision was “clearly a case of political harassment.”
“If you are expecting [a renewal], I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out,” Duterte said at the time.
But in an interview with the Philippines TV network ABS News Channel (ANC), Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque downplayed the role of the president’s office in the media company’s problems.
“He really is neutral and [wants] to let all his allies know that he will not hold it against them. It will not endear him either way. They can vote as they wish,” he said Tuesday.
“What Duterte wants, Duterte gets … And it is clear, with this brazen move to shut down ABS-CBN, that he intends to silence the critical media and intimidate everyone else into submission,” the statement said.
Multiple attempts by the company and lawmakers to receive provisional authority to keep broadcasting were unsuccessful, according to a statement from the company, leading the NTC to issue a cease and desist letter to ABS-CBN.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri told PNA the cease and desist order was “irregular and improper” during the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m really saddened by the move of NTC. We can cite many instances when the NTC granted provisional authority for those still applying for their franchises,” he said.
The cease and desist order covers all of the network’s 42 television stations, 10 digital broadcast channels, and 23 radio stations, according to PNA.
ABS-CBN is not the first news organization to experience trouble operating in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.
On Tuesday, ABS-CBN said that they had been assured there was no move in the works to shut down the network permanently and they intended to continue providing a service to the Philippines as soon as they could.
“We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best interest of the Filipino people in mind, recognizing ABS-CBN’s role and efforts in providing the latest news and information during these challenging times,” the company said in their statement.
Speaking to PNA, several senators said they didn’t see renewal being an issue into the future, but didn’t give a timeline of when it might take place.