The ABS-CBN main building in Quezon City is draped in the network’s colors.
| Inquirer.net photo

THE Philippines’ largest broadcast network stopped its operations on Tuesday, May 5 to comply with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC)’s cease and desist order due to the expiration of its congressional franchise.

ABS-CBN went off air after the broadcast of its primetime news program “TV Patrol” on Tuesday night around 8 p.m. Manila time.

The order directed ABS-CBN to shut down its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “absent a valid Congressional Franchise as required by law.”

Republic Act No. 7966, which granted the network a 25-year franchise to operate TV and radio broadcasting stations expired on May 4, 2020.

ABS-CBN in a statement said that millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and information “when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The network also cited that the order was issued despite the assurance that a provisional authority will be issued pending the renewal of its broadcast license.

“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 ABS-CBN Corp. statement read.

Malacanang also issued its own statement regarding the NTC’s cease and desist order, saying that ABS-CBN has the right to “exhaust all legal remedies available to it.”

“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, as a matter of record, accepted the apology of the network and left its fate to both houses of Congress. Let the public be informed that broadcast franchises are within the authority of Congress,” the statement said.

The Palace thanked the network for its “services to the Filipino nation and people especially in this time of COVID-19” but said its continued operation “is entirely with the NTC’s decision.”

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios told CNN Philippines said they had studied the issue very carefully and that they do “not have any other options in the commission but to comply with Section 1 of Act 3846.”

“We commiserate with ABS-CBN but we have to implement the law, we have to comply with the law whether it is harsh or not, ” Cabarios said.

Republic Act 3846, also known as “An act providing the regulation of radio stations and radio communications in the Philippine Islands…” was enacted on August 10, 1963.

The Section 1 that Cabarios referred to is about the need to obtain a franchise from the Philippine Legislature for a person, firm or company to construct, install, establish, or operate a radio station within the Philippine Islands.

The order covers 42 television stations across the country, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations and 5 AM stations, including the flagship stations Channel 2 and DZMM radio.

Reactions

Multiple groups have expressed their indignation through social media and via statements released immediately after the network went off air.

In a tweet, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, “The Philippines government shows how little it cares about quality information reaching its people during the COVID-19 crisis as it shuts down ABS-CBN network. This is a disaster on top of a disaster.”

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) said it condemns the NTC’s order to shut down the stations of ABS-CBN and calls the move “a case of political harassment.”

“The order threatens press freedom at a time when the public needs an unfettered press the most,” the statement read. “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.”

FOCAP is also urging Congress to independently act on pending measures seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.

“Our lawmakers must tackle these measures as soon as possible, and uphold the freedom of the press that the 1987 Constitution guarantees,” they said.

Several groups from the academe and business sector have also issued statements denouncing the closure.

“Now that ABS-CBN is out of the airwaves, and for the second time since Martial Law, there is no more denying that the Duterte regime will stop at nothing, even amid a national emergency and a crippling lockdown, to crush dissent and stifle a free and independent media,” said a statement from University of Santo Tomas journalism educators.

University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication decried the NTC action, saying that a free press is needed “to serve as a faithful chronicler of events, a platform for the diversity of voices to be heard, and more importantly, the public’s watchdog of inept, abusive and corrupt governance.”

“Again, the current administration demonstrates the lengths it will go to silence critical media voices,” the statement further read.

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), an organization composed of almost 800 chief executives of Philippine companies, called Tuesday, May 5 “a sad day for media freedom and the thousands of people and their families who will be adversely affected by the closure of ABS-CBN.”

“We in MAP had fervently hoped that this day would never come as we, together with other business organizations, strongly urged Congress to consider in a timely and judicious manner the renewal of ABS CBN’s broadcasting franchise,” Francis Lim, MAP president said in a statement.

The network, however, reassured global Filipinos that it will continue programming under its international arm channel The Filipino Channel (TFC) on cable and satellite, IPTV and TFC online.

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