Philippines: Duterte threatens ABS-CBN franchise renewal

Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, has threatened to block the license renewal of the country’s largest broadcasting company, ABS-CBN. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) urge Philippines lawmakers to uphold independence and approve the license renewal for ABS-CBN.

A protester in black displays a placard calling for press freedom during a protest with journalists in Manila Credit: TED ALJIBE / AFP

The current franchise for ABS-CBN will expire on March 30, 2020. Without Congress and presidential approval, ABS-CBN will be forced to cease operation. During a speech on December 3, Duterte threatened: “Your franchise will end next year. If you expect it to be renewed, I'm sorry. I will see to it that you're out!”

It is not the first time Duterte has threatened ABS-CBN. On April 27, 2017, Duterte said he would fight the ABS-CBN license renewal if it did not air his political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign. The threat came four days after Duterte renewed ABS-CBN’s competitor GMA Network.  A year later, on August 3, 2018, Duterte repeated the threats, asserting ABS-CBN was bias.

NUJP stated this week that with time running out, President Duterte's vow to deprive ABS-CBN of a new franchise becomes more than another idle threat against the media outlet.

NUJP said: “Between 10,000 to 11,000 people depend on the Philippines’ largest television network and its subsidiaries/sister companies including ABS-CBN.com, dzMM, TFC, Star Records, to name a few, for their bread and butter. Once its franchise is denied, they will immediately lose their jobs or will indirectly be dislocated.”

The NUJP said this clearly put the ball clearly in Congress' court to take action to approve the renewal. It warned against the danger of personal political grievances in this process, citing congress speaker, Alan Peter Cayetano, who had earlier bared his own personal beef with the network. NUJP warned that the actions of “one man's vindictiveness” could potentially displace thousands of workers, including journalists and artists.

The IFJ said: There is a disturbing but ongoing pattern of threatstolarge broadcasting companies in the Philippines by its president, simply because it refuses to cede to his political whims and pressure against its independent coverage. We urge lawmakers independently assess  the application for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise independently and support the bill. Passing the bill to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise is crucial to protect press freedom in the Philippines.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on 
+61 2 9333 0918

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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