Millions in the Philippines woke up on Wednesday and turned on their TVs only to find ABS-CBN, the nation's No. 1 broadcast station, had gone dark. The network was ordered to stop broadcasting on Tuesday due to an expired license. But the reason why ABS-CBN has been shut down in their attempts to get their franchise license renewed has a lot more to do with the network's contentious relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte.
Here's what led up to the ABS-CBN shut down and why.
To understand why ABS-CBN was forced to shut down, we have to explain a little about politics in the Philippines and how the nation regulates its media. Like all broadcast stations in the country, ABS-CBN must have a broadcast franchise license, which is granted by their House of Representatives. Though ABS-CBN applied for renewal of their 25-year franchise, it has been held up in Congress.
The holdup is almost certainly motivated by Duterte's allies in the Congress working on his behalf to silence the network, whose news coverage has been highly critical of Duterte's regime. The Filipino president's relationship with the media is very much like President Trump's in the U.S; however, Duterte seems to have found a legal avenue to silence at least one of his loudest critics for the time. And it didn't come as a surprise, because the authoritarian had been signaling for some time that he planned to deny their franchise renewal.
Why did Duterte target ABS-CBN specifically?
The network found itself in the leader's crosshairs first in 2016 when he claimed the network tried to sabotage his election by not airing his political ads in a timely manner and he later accused the network of "swindling" him out of his money. His ire for the station has grown as their coverage of his "war on drugs" and criticism of his comments urging citizens to vigilantism against alleged criminals.
Duterte has also essentially given police a license to kill suspected drug criminals by declaring he would pardon any officer convicted for murder of a criminal suspect. He has also issued death threats to reporters who challenge him. Yet, he denies having instructed his congressional allies to block ABS-CNS's franchise renewal.
The president's office claims he was just as surprised as anyone that the license was allowed to expire and that despite his past attacks on the station he has no beef with them. His spokesperson, Harry Roque, said the president does not oppose Congress renewing the franchise license. "He kept on reiterating in our conversation that he is neutral and to let his allies know that her will not hold it against them," Roque said.
However, what Duterte says publicly and what he says behind closed doors may not necessarily line up.
In the meantime, the cable news arm of ABS-CBN, ANC, operates under a separate license and is still on the air.