Philippines: Solicitor General files petition against ABS-CBN franchise renewal

The Philippines’ Solicitor General filed a petition with the Supreme Court to revoke the license of the Philippine’s largest broadcasting network ABS-CBN on February 10. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) join media across the country and globally in condemning attempts to block or revoke the ABS-CBN franchise renewal.

Weekly protest to demand the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN. Credit: NUJP

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a “quo warranto” petition against ABS-CBN before the Supreme Court, asking the court to nullify the franchises of ABS-CBN. In his petition, Calida claimed ABS-CBN was “unlawfully exercising their legislative franchises” and accused it of “highly abusive practices”. See the official statement from the Office of the Solicitor General on the quo warranto petition here.

In his petition, Calida alleged ABS-CBN started a “pay-per-view” channel without approval and charged unauthorised fees. Calida also accused the broadcaster network of having foreign ownership through its Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), which are financial instruments that allow foreign investment in a Filipino company. Media outlet Rappler has also faced similar accusations in a long-running case of political harassment against its operations.

ABS-CBN denies the accusations made by the solicitor general and said the petition appeared to be ‘an effort to shut down ABS-CBN to the serious prejudice of millions of Filipinos’. ABS-CBN’s franchise is set to expire on March 30. A hearing is yet to be scheduled on the franchise renewal but is understood to have at least 11 bills supporting its renewal put forward by politicians.

President Rodrigo Duterte previously threatened to close ABS-CBN in April 2017 when the network did not air his political advertisements during the 2016 election. In December 2019, Duterte warned he was not softening his stance against and that the broadcasting company would definitely be “out” this year. Under current media law, the company can operate only with congress and presidential approval. There are approximately 11,000 jobs at risk if it is forced to cease operations.

The NUJP said the solicitor general’s petition was proof that the government was using all of its powers to shut down the broadcast network.

“We call on Congress and the Supreme Court to once and for all prove to the people that they are truly, as the Constitution envisions, independent and co-equal branches of government that are not at the beck and call of the executive,” NUJP added.

NUJP launched a signature campaign on last month, on January 17, to call the Congress to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN. The union continues to hold weekly Friday protests on the case.

The IFJ said: “We condemn the moves by the solicitor general to force the closure of ABS-CBN – the country’s largest broadcaster. Democracy in the Philippines will be seriously eroded by the potential elimination of such a key broadcaster and is strongly condemned by the media nationally and globally. ABS-CBN deserves the right to continue its role as a critical fourth pillar of democracy in the Philippines.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

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

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