MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Philippine church and business leaders expressed alarm yesterday over a government agency’s shutdown of the country’s largest TV and radio network, which has been a major provider of news on the coronavirus pandemic.
International watchdogs condemned the closure of ABS-CBN Corp, which President Rodrigo Duterte has targeted in the past for its critical coverage, as a major blow to press freedom in an Asian bastion of democracy.
The National Telecommunications Commission ordered the media giant to stop operating after its 25-year congressional franchise ended on Monday.
It reversed a statement to Congress that it would issue a temporary permit while legislators assess a franchise renewal. Only the House of Representatives can grant or revoke such franchise and its hearings have been delayed, in part by a coronavirus lockdown.
In a reflection of the extent of unease over the shutdown of the network, which went off air on Tuesday night, both the opposition and key Duterte allies questioned the commission’s action.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition, said the timely dissemination of accurate information saves lives in a crisis and galvanises national unity. “Closing down ABS-CBN costs lives, on top of unnecessarily burdening the thousands who will lose their jobs,” she said.
Rep. Franz Alvarez, who belongs to a pro-Duterte coalition and heads the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said the telecommunications commission’s order “is a clear encroachment on the jurisdiction of the House.”
Alvarez told ABS-CBN’s DZMM radio station that commission officials told lawmakers in a hearing in March that they would issue a temporary operating permit to ABS-CBN while its franchise renewal was pending based on guidance from the Department of Justice.
“We’re really surprised why they backtracked so they have to explain,” Alvarez told DZMM before it too went off air late Tuesday.