Philippines: ABS-CBN forced off-air

The ABS-CBN, one of the oldest television broadcasters in the Philippines, was forced off air on Tuesday night, May 5, after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered the company to stop television and radio operations. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to condemn the cease and desist order and urge the authorities to allow ABS-CBN to continue its operations.

Workers of ABS-CBN and members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines rally to show support for the broadcaster in Manila on May 5, 2020. Credit: Maria Tan/AFP

NTC has issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN on May 5 after the company’s congressional franchise expired on Monday, May 4. The network went off air at 7.52 pm local time, just after the airing of flagship news program TV Patrol. NTC has also ordered the radio networks of ABS-CBN, DZMM and MOR, to stop operations.

The cease and desist order comes in the middle of the global health pandemic where media play a vital role in keeping the public safe and informed. ABS-CBN has more than 11,000 workers. NTC has given 10 days for ABS-CBN to respond and explain why the frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.

The order to stop operations comes after the Philippine government’s top lawyer warned the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against granting ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate while the approval of its franchise is pending in Congress. ABS-CBN is known to have reported critically on key decisions by the Duterte administration.

Prior to being forced off air, the president and CEO of ABS-CBN Carlo Katigbak  saidthat the network “has done everything and has not violated any laws,” in having its franchise renewed and Congress had acknowledged its importance. ABS-CBN chair Mark Lopez said “it was painful to go off the air, but the company was not losing hope”.

NUJP said: “The cease and desist order issued by the NTC against ABS-CBN is a deplorable assault on free press that further reveals that this administration is more interested in restricting basic freedoms than in containing a pandemic.”

IFJ said: “This is a disgraceful but not unexpected outcome in President Duterte’s long-running campaign to silence critical journalism in the Philippines. The president has attempted to muzzle the country’s major broadcaster in submission but journalists at ABC-CBN and their friends globally will not be silenced. We urgently call on all people in the Philippines to voice their disapproval to this outrageous act to shutter ABS-CBN – and voice it loudly and relentlessly. Media freedom should not be at the behest of political power."

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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