Hopes are dashed for the Philippines’ largest broadcaster to go back on-air within weeks as Congress turns to deliberating lengthier 25-year licence renewal bill.

After a heated discussion on Monday, the House of Representatives suspended the temporary franchise bill, and instead opted to proceed with the 25-year licence renewal application. This would effectively see the broadcaster remain shut for longer.

ABS-CBN was issued a “cease-and-desist” by the country’s media regulator earlier this month after its franchise licence expired. This came despite assurances that it could continue to operate. The move was widely denounced as a further attack on media freedom by the Duterte government.

            Read more: Philippines’ largest broadcaster ordered to go off-air

Even though the temporary franchise bill was approved on its second reading last week, several congressmen shared concerns that it was being processed unconventionally quickly and eventually suspended the bill altogether.

The temporary licence would have allowed ABS-CBN to operate until 31 October 2020, giving Congress more time to discuss the former, much lengthier franchise renewal bill, which has been prolonged for several months. With Congress due to take a break from 6 June and re-convene on 27 July, it is doubtful that much will be processed by then.

The congressional hearing for the franchise renewal bill is set for 26 May. House Speaker, Alan Peter Cayetano, said that Congress must decide on whether to issue the renewal by August.

ABS-CBN President and CEO, Carlo Katigbak, stressed that with each passing month that the network is not on-air it loses vital revenue. Subsequently, a retrenchment of some of its 11,000 employees may be inevitable.

The Public Media Alliance stands in solidarity with ABS-CBN, urging Congress to approve the renewal of its broadcasting licence as soon as possible to ensure that Filipino citizens can swiftly regain a vital source of information during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Header Image: ABS-CBN building, South Triangle, Quezon City. Credit: patrickroque001/CC BY-SA 4.0