Filipino broadcaster ABS-CBN forced off air

Filipino broadcaster ABS-CBN has been forced off the air by the country’s media regulator after its application to renew its franchise was delayed.

ABS-CBN’s license expired on Monday and, although the broadcaster said it could continue operating while Congress renewed its license, its channels were pulled yesterday (Tuesday).

Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, has expressed anger at ABS-CBN’s coverage in the past. The company’s channels went off the air following an order from the National Telecommunications Commission.

ABS-CBN has urged Congress to renew its license and said in a statement: “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.”

In the past, ABS-CBN has held broadcast rights in the Philippines to NBA basketball, the Fifa World Cup, UFC and the bouts of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao.

ABS-CBN held the free-to-air NBA rights during the 2014-15 to 2018-19 cycle and also owns the pay-television platform Sky Cable.

ABS-CBN refused to run campaign advertisements by Duterte during the country’s presidential election campaign in 2016, a move which angered the 75-year-old.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the decision to shut down ABS-CBN “goes against public welfare” while the Covid-19 outbreak continues to cause uncertainty. More than 600 people have died from the virus in the Philippines.

Butch Olano, Amnesty International’s Philippines section director, said that the move represents an “outrageous attack on media freedom” and the government “must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on air”.