Philippines: threat against broadcaster ABS-CBN is 'dark day for media freedom'

ABS-CBN's flagship news programme TV Patrol on air earlier this year © Getty Images

Broadcaster has aired investigative reports on extrajudicial executions during President Duterte’s notorious ‘war on drugs’

‘It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic’ - Butch Olano

Responding to news that one of the Philippines’ largest broadcast media companies - ABS-CBN - has been ordered to cease its operations in the country, Butch Olano, Amnesty International’s Philippines Director, said: 

“This is a dark day for media freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies.

“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.

“This latest move against ABS-CBN occurs after repeated attacks in the past against the network by President Duterte himself. It is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticised the government’s response to the pandemic.”

ABS-CBN’s investigations into ‘war on drugs’ killings

Earlier today, the Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission ordered ABS-CBN to stop operating its TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise” yesterday (4 May). The commission cited the Radio Control Law (Republic Act 3846), which would give ABS-CBN ten days to appeal.

In recent years, ABS-CBN has produced numerous investigative reports highlighting extrajudicial executions committed as part of the government’s “war on drugs.” Similarly, news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa, who have also been critical of the anti-drug campaign in their reporting, are facing a string of lawsuits - including charges of tax evasion, cyber libel and improper foreign ownership.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly attacked ABS-CBN for allegedly failing to run his paid political advertisements during the 2016 elections. In a speech last December, Duterte said network executives should sell the company.

‘Fake news’ crackdown

In recent weeks, the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation has summoned individuals suspected of spreading “fake news” related to COVID-19. President Duterte has recently been granted special powers to address the pandemic, including with a legal provision that punishes “creating, perpetuating or spreading false information” with up to two months in prison.
 

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