Manila, Jul 10 (efe-epa).- Lawmakers in the Philippines on Friday voted against renewing the license for ABS-CBN, the largest media franchise and oldest TV station in the Southeast Asian country which has been one of the foremost critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Since 5 May dozens of television channels and radio stations affiliated with the franchise have been closed down by order of the national telecommunications commission when the licences came up for renewal.
The president of ABS-CBN, Carlo Katigbak, said: “We are deeply hurt by the decision of the committee on legislative franchises to reject the ABS-CBN franchise. We believe we are able to provide meaningful and valuable service to Filipinos.”
The franchise’s bid for renewal was rejected by the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of parliament in the Philippines, by 70 votes to 11.
The process involved some 12 hearings in the chamber, keeping the media group, which employs some 11,000 people, in a state of limbo.
ABS-CBN had recently become a target of president Duterte, who accused it of producing “unfair” news coverage. Human rights groups and journalist associations have billed the closure as a government clampdown on free press.
Duterte had previously threatened to close down the franchise on several occasions, most recently in December, when he urged the owners of the group to sell the company in order to avoid problems.
His feud with the organization began in 2016 during his presidential campaign. ABS-CBN decided not to emit a campaign ad from Duterte, despite it already being paid for, because it had not been given the green light by the electoral commission.
The president’s spokesman Harry Roque on Friday said the decision to reject the license for ABS-CBN lay solely with parliament and that Duterte was “neutral” on the matter.
“The decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation is a sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize,” he added in a statement.
The House of Representatives is dominated by Duterte-allied lawmakers and the chamber’s president, Alan Cayetano, is one of the president’s closest associates.
Since its closure, ABS-CBN, which once boasted the lion’s share of the Filipino audience, has lost some $700,000 per day. It is currently restricted to online publications.
In a statement, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said: “The Philippines Congress’ refusal to renew the license to ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network, is a grievous assault on press freedom in the country.
“Not since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shutdown ABS-CBN and other media outlets in 1972 have a single government action caused so much damage to media freedom.” EFE-EPA