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Philippine Broadcaster Seeks Court Injunction Against Shutdown

Luis Liwanag and Basilio Sepe
Manila
2020-05-07
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A sign on a wall in the newsroom at ABS-CBN Corp. in Quezon City, Philippines, decries this week’s move by national telecommunications regulators to order the shutdown of the television and radio network, the largest in the country, May 7, 2020.
A sign on a wall in the newsroom at ABS-CBN Corp. in Quezon City, Philippines, decries this week’s move by national telecommunications regulators to order the shutdown of the television and radio network, the largest in the country, May 7, 2020.
Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews

Embattled Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. asked the highest court Thursday to issue an injunction against an order that forced most of its operations off the air, as the government criticized foreign media for linking President Rodrigo Duterte to the shutdown.

ABS-CBN, the largest television and radio broadcaster in the Philippines, filed a petition with the Supreme Court two days after it stopped broadcasting on its public channels, when telecommunications regulators ordered it to cease operations because its license had expired on Monday, a senior executive with the network confirmed.

“We hope it would be acted upon favorably,” Ging Reyes, the head of the network’s news department, told BenarNews.

The shutdown order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) “violates the right of the public to information and is a curtailment of the freedom of speech and of the press,” according to the 46-page petition.

Parts of it were read out on ABS-CBN’s cable news TV program, which remains on the air. The network’s online platforms and subscription-based cable operations are still functioning because they were not covered by the closure order.

The petition also accused the commission of a “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction” and of acting in “bad faith” by giving ABS-CBN a cease and desist order on May 5.

“The NTC’s bad faith, malice and underhandedness are simply shocking, and abhorrent,” the broadcaster said, referring to how the NTC had earlier agreed to grant the network a temporary permit while it still waited for Congress to issue a new license, after its 25-year franchise officially expired on May 4.

Officials at the telecoms commission could not be immediately reached for comment.

On the day before the network’s license expired, Solicitor General Jose Calida warned that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) had no legal basis to grant the network provisional authority (PA) to stay on-air for the time being, as the agency had indicated it would do.

When the commission issued its order to ABS-CBN, it said the network could no longer air programming on its public channels “absent a valid Congressional Franchise as required by law.”

The network, whose critical news coverage of the Duterte administration’s controversial drug war has rankled the president, applied to renew its license more than three years ago. But Congress, which is authorized to issue such a license but is majority-controlled by Duterte’s allies, has not yet acted on bills to do with the broadcaster’s franchise.

‘Independent and impartial decision’

On Thursday, the Duterte administration lashed out at international media organizations, accusing them of being biased in how they have covered the closure of ABS-CBN’s public channels.

Martin Andanar, secretary of the Presidential Communications Office, condemned the “unjust and unfair” reporting of some international media organizations. He did not name the international agencies, but nearly all of those represented in the Philippines covered the story.

“We decry any claims and assertions associating President Duterte with the National Telecommunications Commission’s independent and impartial decision to impose a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN Corporation,” Andanar said.

“Such claims are bereft of truth and just a rehash of an old malicious imputation to bedevil the President and his administration. One should understand, first and foremost, the Philippines’ legislative processes and rule of law before connecting any precedents as being orchestrated by the President,” he added.

According to Andanar, Duterte had accepted an apology from ABS-CBN Corporation, and therefore this should cast aside any doubt that the President had a hand in NTC’s decision. Andanar was alluding to how the network had previously angered Duterte by not running his campaign ads during the 2016 presidential election.

“No one is above the law. ABS-CBN’s shutdown was brought about by the expiration of its 25-year legislative franchise last 4 May 2020,” the press secretary said.

“It is within the purview of the Constitution that NTC, as a regulatory body, disallows the continued operation of any broadcast network with an expired franchise. Therefore, [it is] totally unfair and objectionable for some parties and some international media to insist that what happened to the network is due to ‘having incurred the ire’ of the President,” he said.

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