The United States government yesterday expressed its uneasiness over the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest broadcaster, after the company failed to secure a new franchise from the House of Representatives.
“We are concerned by the situation regarding ABS-CBN,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
“An independent media plays a critical role in facilitating the open exchange of information and ideas which is vital to free, prosperous, and secure democratic societies,” she added. “This is true for the United States, the Philippines, as well as countries around the world.”
ABS-CBN abruptly ended its broadcast on radio and television on Tuesday after it was ordered to do so by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). The commission was supposed to grant the media giant a provisional license while the company was waiting for the approval of its new 25-year broadcasting franchise. Before releasing its order, the NTC was warned by Solicitor General Jose Calida that they would face graft charges should they grant a provisional license to ABS-CBN.
Instead of giving up without a fight, ABS-CBN broadcast its news program TV Patrol on Facebook and YouTube last night, as well as on its cable channel, ANC.
President Rodrigo Duterte had publicly said multiple times that he would block any efforts to have ABS-CBN’s franchise renewed because the company allegedly failed to air his election ads in 2016. The president was also miffed that its news and current affairs programs reportedly aired stories that portrayed his government in a negative light.
Meanwhile, non-profit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday asked the NTC to “rescind” its shut down order, and accused Duterte of masterminding the media company’s closure.
“The Philippine government shutdown of ABS-CBN reeks of a political vendetta by President Duterte, who has repeatedly threatened the network for criticizing his abusive ‘war on drugs,’” said Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of HRW, in a statement sent to Coconuts Manila.
“Congress should stop ducking responsibility and reverse Duterte’s latest attempt to muzzle the press, especially when the public needs timely and accurate information more than ever,” he added.
ABS-CBN’s reporters have covered Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign, for which it has won awards both in the Philippines and overseas.