The Philippine National Telecommunication Commission’s order to close down the broadcaster ABS-CBN is a serious violation of press freedom and should be withdrawn immediately, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, said today.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on May 5 ordered ABS-CBN, a premier television network in The Philippines, to close down its television and radio channels immediately after a politically driven effort to prevent the network from renewing its license. NTC ordered the closure despite earlier assurances that the television station could operate after its franchise lapsed on May 4.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said that though the NTC order is to be implemented immediately, it can be appealed in the court.

“The order to close ABS-CBN sounds a death knell for press freedom”, IPI Executive Board member Maria Ressa, a prominent Philippine journalist, said in criticizing the NTC order. “This is a blatant attempt to grab power and silence critics who speak truth to power.”

IPI Advocacy Director Ravi R. Prasad added: “The Philippine government’s move to forcibly close ABS-CBN is a serious escalation of President Duterte’s attacks on the media. This order must be immediately withdrawn and ABS-CBN allowed to resume doing its job of informing the public.”

The Philippine Congress had started debating a bill to extend the 25-year Congressional franchise of ABS-CBN in October. However, on December 3, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he was angry with the network for negative coverage and that the license would not be renewed.

The network has been continuously harassed by the government since President Duterte came to power. In February this year, while the Congress was considering the bill for extension of the franchise, the solicitor general filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking the court to declare the franchise void. A few days later the solicitor general filed another motion asking the court to issue a gag order preventing the network and others from making public statements about the petition filed earlier.

On February 24, the justice secretary informed the Senate that the Congress may authorize the NTC to grant a provisional permit to the network to continue its operations.