The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, today urged the Philippine government to withdraw a petition to strip television broadcaster ABS-CBN of its franchise, a move that could lead to the station’s closure.
Jose Calida, the solicitor general of The Philippines, filed a claim on Monday asking the country’s Supreme Court to void the franchise agreement. The petition accuses ABS-CBN of “unlawfully exercising their legislative franchises” and of “”highly abusive practices benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers”, according to reports.
ABS-CBN has been an ongoing target of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte since the start of his administration for its critical reporting. Duterte, who has accused the station of not airing his campaign ads, has continuously threatened to terminate the franchise and even told company executives to sell the media house.
At the same time, the station’s current 25-year franchise is set to expire March 30, but lawmakers have not yet granted a renewal. ABS-CBN wrote on its webpage that it could operate beyond that expiration through a temporary permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.
“The effort to void ABS-CBN’s franchise is a barely veiled attempt to forcibly close a media outlet that has reported critically on the Duterte administration”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The government should withdraw this petition and refrain from seeking to prevent the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise agreement. More broadly, we call on the Duterte government to end harassment of critical media in all forms.”
ABS-CBN employs roughly 11,000 workers in The Philippines and abroad. The content produced by the media network is watched by Filipinos across the world.
“Removing that big part of news and entertainment content in the landscape of media here in the Philippines would be a big blow to media industry due the course of press freedom and choice”, a senior journalist from ABS-CBN who requested anonymity told IPI. “Some people may say that you might lose ABS-CBN, but there is still online news portal, etc. However, in this country television is still the biggest source of information and entertainment because it’s free.”
ABS-CBN has only ten days to comment on the petition. The broadcaster said in a statement that it “complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise and has secured all necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations”.
Other media houses in Philippines have offered their support, including the Philippine news website Rappler, led by IPI Executive Board member Maria Ressa and former head of news at ABS-CBN. Rappler has faced similar pressure from the Duterte administration.
Ressa sees the petition against the country’s biggest media network as a huge blow against press freedom. “This is a clear pattern of harassment and bit to control media and stifle press freedom in the Philippines.”
The public is also showing its support for ABS-CBN including on Twitter under the hashtag #NoToABSCBNShutdown.
“It is very heart-warming”, the ABS-CBN journalist said. “It is very critical time in the life of our country and in the media industry here. We are very happy that we are getting this outpouring of support and kind words all over the world. That is really something that we hope would continue as we face this challenge in the next months.”