The U.S. State Department and media watchdog organizations have expressed concerns over the closure of Philippine media giant ABS-CBN.
“We are concerned by the situation regarding ABS-CBN,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a report by news agency Agence France Presse.
“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 said.
After the Philippine National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered its closure this week, ABS-CBN issued a statement saying “millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment … just when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
NTC issued a cease and desist order on May 5 prohibiting ABS-CBN from continuing its broadcast operations effective immediately. At the time of its closure, the network was going through a franchise renewal process.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, according to media reports, threatened to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. Duterte is known for attacking local media who are critical of the government’s policies.
Duterte, on his part, maintains that he is neutral when it comes to the network lockdown issue.
Meanwhile, watchdog organizations are also condemning the closure of ABS-CBN — which is considered the Philippines’ largest media network.
Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said in a statement:
“Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom. It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on-air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom.
Olano said the latest move is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic.
“This is a dark day for media freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies. The lessons of history should be a reminder to the government not to go down this path, press freedom must be upheld and this attack on ABS-CBN should be vigorously opposed by all who care about free speech.”
According to the network, despite efforts in the Philippine House of Representatives and a sworn statement from an NTC commissioner, the commission did not grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate while its franchise renewal remains pending in Congress.
“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. ABS-CBN remains committed to being in the service of the Filipino and we will find ways to continue providing meaningful service to them,” ABC-CBN said in a statement.