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Uproar as Duterte government orders leading Philippine broadcaster off air

Vice-President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition, said the timely dissemination of accurate information saves lives in a crisis and galvanises national unity.

Supporters and journalists gather outside the broadcaster after the shutdown on Tuesday.

Supporters and journalists gather outside the broadcaster after the shutdown on Tuesday.Credit:Getty Images

“Closing down ABS-CBN costs lives, on top of unnecessarily burdening the thousands who will lose their jobs,” she said.

MP Franz Alvarez, who belongs to a pro-Duterte coalition and heads the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said the telecommunications commission’s order “is a clear encroachment on the jurisdiction of the House”.

Alvarez told ABS-CBN’s DZMM radio station that commission officials told MPs in a hearing in March that they would issue a temporary operating permit to ABS-CBN while its franchise renewal was pending based on guidance from the Department of Justice.

“We’re really surprised why they backtracked so they have to explain,” Alvarez told DZMM before it too went off air.

A man passes signs blocking a road during strict community quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Manila.

A man passes signs blocking a road during strict community quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Manila.Credit:AP

The Makati Business Club, a prestigious group of top business executives, said the network’s closure was a setback to national unity amid the unprecedented crisis.

Amnesty International in the Philippines said the closure order was an “outrageous attack” on media freedom and asked the government to immediately bring the network back on air.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.Credit:Malacanang/AP

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Catholic Bishops Conference protested the closure “on behalf of journalists and thousands of workers affected by the decision” as they struggled to cope with the contagion.

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ABS-CBN has more than 11,000 news and production personnel nationwide. Aside from reporting on the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 10,000 people and killed 637 in the Philippines, it has also provided truckloads of food and medical aid.

Media watchdogs accused Duterte and his government of muzzling independent media like that have reported critically on issues including the President’s anti-drug crackdown, in which thousands of mostly poor drug suspects have been killed. Government officials denied the closure was a press freedom issue, insisting that everyone must comply with the law.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said ABS-CBN was free to seek legal solutions and added that Duterte had left its fate to Congress.

But ahead of the franchise expiration, Solicitor-General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court in February to revoke the operating franchises of ABS-CBN and a subsidiary in a separate attempt to shut down the company for allegedly abusing its licences and violating a constitutional prohibition on foreign investment in Philippine media. ABS-CBN denied the allegations.

AP

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