May 08 2020

Shutdown of Filipino Broadcast Network Ignites Uproar

by Chloe Chu

Exterior view of the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Centre in Manila. Image via Wikipedia.

On May 5, the Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease and desist order to the broadcast network ABS-CBN, forcing the media giant, which operates some of the country’s most popular television and radio channels, off air. The mandate came one day after the expiration of the company’s 25-year broadcast license, which is granted by congress. 

ABS-CBN has sought the renewal of its permit since 2014, but congress, overwhelmed by President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, has continuously delayed action on related bills. Duterte has publicly threatened to block ABS-CBN’s license renewal on multiple occasions, and has expressed scorn for the network since 2016, claiming that it had neglected to fulfill the airtime he had paid for as part of his election campaign. In the years after Duterte took office in 2016, ABS-CBN has also documented his “war on drugs,” which has seen the extrajudicial killing of thousands, drawing further ire from the president.

ABS-CBN’s shutdown was met with fury across the Philippines’ creative sectors. In its public statement, published on May 5 to social media, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines group condemned the move as “a malicious attack on freedom of expression, the press, and the livelihood of media and creative industry workers,” adding that during a pandemic “the continued operations of media institutions are vital to getting timely and credible information. The closure of ABS-CBN’s franchise will have dire impacts on our freedom of information and collective capacity for truth checking.” Meanwhile, the Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development stated: “Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are democratic rights. And the democratic majority—the Philippine peasantry—demands their protection.” In its public statement, the Directors Guild of the Philippines (DGPI) added: “ABS-CBN is a vital part of our democracy and economy. Not only has it provided artists with a platform for freedom of expression, but it has also provided livelihood for thousands of workers.” In February, DPGI board member Joel Lamangan told senate representatives at an inquiry into ABS-CBN’s compliance that the network is a crucial platform through which directors can showcase their works. 

Individual artists have also voiced their concerns. Norberto Roldan, founder of independent art space Green Papaya, shared a poster on Facebook with the statement: “Shutting down a major broadcasting network during a pandemic is madness. It is a disservice to the Filipino.” His sentiments were echoed by painter Maria Taniguchi who posted to Instagram a photo of a candlelight vigil outside the ABS-CBN offices with the caption: “A cruel, cruel move by this government against its own people,” while multimedia artist Pio Abad shared a widely circulated image of ribbons in red, green, and blue—the colors of ABS-CBN’s logo—in support of the network.

Duterte has previously targeted other media outlets, most notably Rappler. On January 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the online news website’s operating license, alleging that the company had violated regulations on foreign ownership and control. On December 3, 2018, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Rappler’s founder, Maria Ressa, for charges of tax evasion. Rappler has since undergone restructuring, and continues to operate. 

ABS-CBN has until May 14 to contest government orders.

Chloe Chu is the managing editor of ArtAsiaPacific. 

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