With 42 television stations, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, 5 AM stations, and 11,000 jobs at stake, Filipino broadcaster ABS-CBN has turned to Internet delivery after being ordered by the country’s National Telecommunications Commission to cease broadcasting.
After a March expiry date of ABS-CBN’s franchise, several legislative bills for its renewal were stalled in the country’s Congress and House of Representatives. These lapsed Monday May 4, prompting the NTC to order the immediate shutdown of the broadcaster.
The country’s Solicitor General, Jose Calida, had been seeking to cancel the network’s franchise which would have expired on March 30 unless the Filipino Congress granted it a new licence.
The Solicitor General had cited “highly abusive practices” by ABS-CBN, including the launch of its KBO channel without a permit from the National Telecommunications Commission, and allegedly allowing foreign investors to control the company. He has sought a gag order to stop the network publicly discussing the issue. The network has also come under criticism from Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte who has accused it of failing to air his political ads during the 2016 election campaign.
According to ABS-CBN reports, Filipino House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano stated that regulators appeared to have “succumbed to pressure” from the government’s lead lawyer when it forced ABS-CBN off air over its stalled franchise renewal.
“Last Tuesday we were all ambushed by the NTC,” Cayetano said in a statement, two days after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order against ABS-CBN due to the network’s franchise expiration. “Despite their assurance given under oath. Despite the legal opinion of the Department of Justice. Despite a resolution from the Senate, and several verbal and written assurances given to Congress – the NTC appears to have succumbed to pressure from the Solicitor General, and issued a cease and desist order to ABS-CBN.”
Cayetano said the NTC in March promised it would let the Philippines’ top broadcaster operate provisionally until Congress decided on the renewal of its 25-year license to operate.
ABS-CBN has reported that Solicitor General Jose Calida pressed the NTC to stop the network’s broadcast instead of granting it provisional authority, according to a copy of a letter to the Commission dated April 30.
“With an expired franchise and a failure to renew the franchise, the NTC should, instead of entertaining the thought of issuing a PA, with or without hearing, issue a show cause or recall order requiring ABS-CBN Corporation to explain why the broadcasting frequency assigned to it should not be recalled or otherwise forfeited,” said the Solicitor General in the 14-page letter which was addressed to NTC Gamaliel Cordoba and Deputy Commissioners Delilah Deles and Edgardo Cabarios, and signed by Calida and six assistant solicitors general.
“At the same time, the NTC should issue a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN Corporation from continuing its broadcasting operations,” he added.
The NTC ordered the cessation of ABS-CBN broadcasts on May 5, forcing the media company to go off the air for the first time since the Marcos dictatorship. However, according to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, while the NTC order “complicates the issue”, the authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises “still resides in Congress, and Congress alone”.
ALTERNATIVES TO BROADCAST
Meanwhile, ABS-CBN has taken to alternative platforms, continuing to publish news via its website and to distribute programming via Facebook and YouTube, as well as its international channel The Filipino Channel (TFC), the iWant OTT platform, the ANC pay TV news channel, and the TeleRadyopay television channel that broadcasts ABS-CBN’s flagship AM radio station DZMM 630.
In a statement, the media company said, “ABS-CBN’s digital platforms are not covered by the cease and desist order of the National Telecommunications Commission that prohibits ABS-CBN from continuing its broadcast operations on television and radio.
“Like we promised, we will not be silenced, and we will remain committed to serving the Filipino.”