News

February 11, 2020

Philippine government tries to shut down leading broadcaster

A human rights advocate holds up a mask featuring Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte during a march to mark International Human Rights Day in Manila on December 10, 2019. Through several complicit institutions, Duterte has waged a war on ABS-CBN because of the network’s critical coverage (photo: Maria TAN / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Philippine judiciary to respect the press freedom enshrined in the country’s constitution after solicitor general Jose Calida yesterday asked the supreme court to revoke the franchise of the biggest Philippine radio and TV network, ABS-CBN, because of alleged “abusive practices.”

This latest act of constitutional outrage by the executive has come just weeks before the network’s 25-year franchise, which was issued by parliament, is due to expire on 30 March. In the Philippines, the solicitor general is the equivalent of an attorney general attached to the department of justice.

 

In a statement, Calida denied that the complaint he had filed with the supreme court was politically motivated. But he was one of Rodrigo Duterte’s election campaign managers, and Duterte, as president, has repeatedly said ABS-CBN should be stripped of its franchise.

 

The aim of the complaint, Calida said, was “to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN.” These practices, he claimed, had “gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years.”

 

Incompetence or fabrication

 

“Either Jose Calida told the truth, in which case he has revealed his profound incompetence, because he has been in office since June 2016 and has had plenty of time to deal with ‘abusive practices,’ or he told a lie, and his claim is a complete political fabrication,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 

“We urge the supreme court’s judges to reject this crude request and we call on members of parliament to immediately renew the ABS-CBN franchise in a spirit of respect for the separation of powers and freedom of the press, as required by the Philippines’ 1987 constitution.”

 

In a press release on 30 January, exactly two months before the franchise’s expiry, RSF listed the many threats that President Duterte has made against ABS-CBN, including advising the network’s owners on 30 December to “just sell.”

 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has launched an online petition for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise and a campaign on social media with the hashtag #NoToABSCBNShutdown

 

The Philippines is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.