Human rights groups on Tuesday, May 5, condemned the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC) cease and desist order against network giant ABS-CBN.
In a statement, Karapatan blasted the timing of the order amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as its effects, including thousands of job losses in the media sector.
"It is truly abhorrent that this order comes in the middle of a public health crisis where the free press plays a crucial role in keeping the public informed on relevant, verified, and life-saving information about the COVID-19 pandemic," the group said.
The NTC directed ABS-CBN to halt its television and radio broadcasting operations on Tuesday, a day after the expiration of its congressional franchise on May 4.
Both Congress and the Department of Justice said the NTC should allow ABS-CBN to operate while bills for its franchise renewal remain pending. But on May 3, Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the NTC against granting provisional authority.
Karapatan said that the shutdown, which will have grave repercussions, shows that the "Duterte regime is desperately fast-tracking its Marcosian delusions of a fascist dictatorship."
"We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand against the State's fascist attacks on press freedom and human rights, and to strongly resist and frustrate the Duterte administration's nefarious tyrannical schemes," it said.
International group Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, expressed deep concern over the cease and desist order, calling it a "serious blow to press freedom" in the Philippines, especially at a time when crucial information is vital.
Phil Robertson, HRW's Asia deputy director, said the NTC should rescind the order, which is just one of the many efforts of the Duterte government to muzzle Philippine media.
"The Filipino people should reject this despotic move to harass and silence a media organization known not only for its reach but also for its competence and dedication to deliver the news," he added.
He urged Calida to "stop acting like Duterte's attack dog," while Congress should immediately act on the franchise bill.
The order to shut down ABS-CBN is the latest in a string of attacks against media in the Philippines under the Duterte administration. (READ: Philippine media under attack)
President Rodrigo Duterte himself has consistently attacked several news organizations since 2016, notably over the coverage of his violent anti-illegal drug campaign which has claimed thousands of lives.
Here are other statements:
Amnesty International Philippines
Ordering ABS-CBN to stop its operations is an outrageous attack on media freedom. It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom.
This latest move against ABS-CBN occurs after repeated attacks in the past against the network by President Duterte himself. It is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic.
This is a dark day for media freedom in the Philippines, reminiscent of martial law when the dictatorship seized control over news agencies. The lessons of history should be a reminder to the government not to go down this path, press freedom must be upheld and this attack on ABS-CBN should be vigorously opposed by all who care about free speech.
The cease and desist order is another attack against press freedom in the Philippines, at a time when access to information is most vital. The Government of the Philippines should facilitate the free flow of information especially in the face of a global health crisis, instead of relentlessly targeting its media institutions and suppressing press freedom.
It is particularly concerning that the pressure to close down the network comes from the country's Solicitor General, who threatened to prosecute the NTC should ABS-CBN be granted a provisional license. The Department of Justice and several legislators had earlier recommended the granting of a provisional license, pending Congress' decision on franchise renewal.
The country's press has been instrumental in promoting State accountability, and in reporting the extent of human rights violations when it comes to repressive policies, such as the ‘war on drugs’. The Government's consistent attacks against the press highlight how severely civic space in the country has narrowed, and how the media is increasingly targeted in its reprisals.
In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement
In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) expresses alarm at the cease and desist order by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against ABS-CBN despite the media organization’s application for the renewal of its franchise, which has been filed months earlier without any response from the House of Representatives.
Now, in the midst of a national health crisis where the government is failing to providing accurate, timely and useful information to the public, the Solicitor General and the NTC attempt to close ABS CBN in an underhanded attack on press freedom. The politically motivated gag order by the NTC spells a serious breach of the people’s right to accessible and reliable information, and will result in diminishing the people’s capacity to respond effectively to the national health crisis.
Solicitor General Calida and the NTC should be held accountable for endangering the people’s welfare by depriving them of the basic service of mass media. At this time, when government wants us to supposedly “heal as one”, it must focus its efforts on rallying the forces and institutions which are critical to the implementation of solutions, through a rights-based governance instead of rewarding ineptitude, intimidation and human rights abuse.
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.