ABS-CBN has been issued a “cease-and-desist” order by the country’s media regulator starting with immediate effect. The Public Media Alliance denounces the order as a direct attack on media freedom and calls for the renewal of the company’s licence.  

On Tuesday, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued ABS-CBN a “cease and desist” order after its franchise licence expired on 4 May. The move comes despite assurances from authorities that the broadcaster would be able to provisionally operate after its expiry date.  

The renewal of ABS-CBN’s 25-year licence had been up for discussion in recent months, but several of the bills related to this are still pending in Congress. 

This incident is the latest in a series of attacks on media freedom and critical voices in the Philippines, since President Duterte rose to power in 2016. The country dropped a further two places to 136/180 in this year’s RSF World Press Freedom Index 

Statement on the cease and desist order issued by the NTC to ABS-CBN. Credit: ABS-CBN

ABS-CBN is widely known for its critical reporting of Duterte’s administration and their campaigns such as the “War on Drugs”. Duterte has on multiple occasions threatened not to renew the franchise’s licence since it refused to broadcast his 2016 presidential campaign adverts.  

ABS-CBN’s shutdown comes at an extremely critical time when citizens need access to relevant, accurate and timely information about the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time of writing, the country has now reached over 10,000 COVID-19 cases and over 600 deaths.  

 Read more: Philippines government continues to intimidate and harass news media 

 Read more: ABS-CBN vows comeback after being shut down by government 

Schools, businesses, press freedom advocates and even other news media organisations have shared their support for the broadcaster, who looked to ABS-CBN as a source of independent and verified information in the country. 

In a statement, ABS-CBN said: “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.  

“ABS-CBN remains committed to being in the service of the Filipino and we will find ways to continue providing meaningful service to them.” 

The Public Media Alliance calls on the Philippines Government to renew ABS-CBN’s licence and franchise. Democracy only works when the public have access to plural, independent, critical and reliable news media, no more so than now in the face of a global pandemic. 

Header Image: Black and white noise on a TV screen with no signal, also called TV snow. Credit: axstokes/istock