Rights group urges Philippine congress to renew ABS-CBN franchise


The Philippine congress is urged by Human Rights Watch to immediately renew ABS-CBN’s media franchise, put it back on air and protect press freedom in the country.

The rights group said timely and accurate information is needed by the public more than ever in this time of coronavirus pandemic.

“The Philippine government shutdown of ABS-CBN reeks of a political vendetta by President Duterte, who has repeatedly threatened the network for criticizing his abusive ‘war on drugs,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Congress should stop ducking responsibility and reverse [President Rodrigo] Duterte’s latest attempt to muzzle the press, especially when the public needs timely and accurate information more than ever.”

ABS-CBN went off the air Tuesday night in compliance with the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) order to stop its broadcast operations after its legislative franchise expired on May 04.

Lawmakers earlier urged the NTC to grant the network a provisional authority to operate while its franchise renewal is pending in Congress.

NTC officials assured that ABS-CBN would be granted a provisional permit.

“The Duterte administration is using a back-door method against ABS-CBN as the president’s latest way to suppress freedom of the press,” Robertson said.

“Those concerned about public health messaging and the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines should call on legislators to right this wrong, get ABS-CBN back on the air, and protect media freedom throughout the country,” he added.

The President had repeatedly vowed to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, citing the network’s failure to air his ads during his presidential campaign in 2016.

ABS-CBN apologized to the President to which Duterte accepted. He also said he will leave the network’s franchise renewal to Congress.

Malacañang on Wednesday said the President is “completely neutral” and that lawmakers should vote on ABS-CBN’s fate according to their conscience. (Source: INQUIRER.net)