Amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic when media plays a crucial role in keeping the public informed of developments in the battle to tame the coronavirus, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) of the Philippines has shut down ABS-CBN, whose TV channels are watched by almost two out of every five Filipinos.
The 66-year-old entertainment and media conglomerate’s TV channels and radio station went off-air on Tuesday (5 May 2020) as it failed to have its congressional franchise renewed by Philippine lawmakers.
Since 2014, ABS-CBN has been applying for the renewal of its 25-year franchise expiring on 4 May 2020 but relevant Bills put forward were not acted upon despite the owners, in congressional hearings in February, apologising to President Rodrigo Duterte, who accused the network of siding with his political enemies when ABS-CBN refused to air one of his political ads when he was running for the Presidency.
President Duterte accepted the apology but insisted that the network’s fate was up to Congress.
Lawmakers, holding hearings on Bills to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise, said on Tuesday they were blindsided by the NTC’s order. They were assured earlier by NTC officials and the Justice Ministry that ABS-CBN would be issued a “provisional authority”, so it could remain on-air.
ABS-CBN has released a statement on the day it was taken off the air and detailed its plan to appeal against the order and renew its franchise. ABS-CBN has more than 10,000 employees whose jobs are at stake.
“We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best interest of the Filipino people in mind, recognising ABS-CBN’s role and efforts in providing the latest news and information during these challenging times,” the owners said in a statement.