Various groups express shock and anger over NTC’s shutdown order vs ABS-CBN

The outpouring of support for ABS-CBN from various sectors expresses shock and anger over the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) on May 5, two days after World Press Freedom Day.

The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation—a nationwide network of journalists, scholars, bloggers, and civil society representatives— called the order a “legal obscenity” and a “moral monstrosity.”

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“The order, issued while the network’s franchise renewal is actively pending in Congress, runs counter to accepted practice and legislative tradition, undermines the public’s right to information especially during a grave public health emergency, and violates both letter and spirit of the Constitution, ” the consortium said in a statement.

Among the institutional signatories to the statement were the Ateneo de Manila-based Asian Center for Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA)) , Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network (FMFA), MindaNews, National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), PhilStar.com editorial staff, Rappler, Rock Ed Philippines, University of the Philippines (UP) Journalism Department, Good Governance and Development Group, University of the Philippines Cebu, and All UP Academic Employees Union, University of the Philippines Cebu Chapter.

As of 5 p.m. on May 6, at least 102 individuals have signed the statement.

Disclosure: VERA Files, a signatory to the statement, is a member of the consortium.

The Journalism Educators from the University of Santo Tomas (UST)compared NTC’s order to the sneaky attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States Naval Base of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu 59 years ago: “Duterte has declared war on the free press and this is his Pearl Harbor attack. “

The group, whose members are all active media practitioners, further said: “Lawmakers and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) had led the public to believe that ABS-CBN would be allowed to operate beyond the expiration of its license on May 4, a longstanding practice, as Congress deliberates on a new franchise.”

“It turned out to be an insidious strategy to run the clock out on ABS-CBN and force it to shut down, at a time when its vast news-gathering network is needed to inform citizens on the Covid-19 outbreak and check on the government’s exercise of emergency powers and massive war chest in response to the pandemic, and as its viewers, stakeholders and supporters are locked down and unable to protest,” the statement further said.

“Now that the ABS-CBN is out of the airwaves and, for the second time since Martial Law, there is no more denying that the Duterte regime will stop at nothing --even amid a national emergency and a crippling lockdown – to crush dissent and stifle a free and independent media.”

‘Shutting down media is the work of dictators.”

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), for its part, said: “The move is clearly a case of political harassment against a pillar of Philippine democracy that employs thousands of Filipinos whose livelihoods are now at risk with the order.”

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) also condemned NTC’s order as a “malicious attack on freedom of expression, the press, and the livelihood of media and creative industry workers.”

“From the order, more than 20 AM and FM radio stations combined and 15 TV stations will be affected. This will have a ripple effect on all employees, whether regular or contractual, “CAP noted.

The BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN), meanwhile, expressed its solidarity with the broadcasting network and its workers who, they said, has played a huge role in showing the plight of workers in the BPO Industry to the general public.

“Its News and Current Affairs Division has provided workers in the BPO industry with space on television, radio and digital media to air our issues and concerns. For many years, ABS-CBN has consistently covered news about the industry and problems of BPO workers ---from sharing of headsets, to SSI mall fire, to floating of workers while hiring, union busting in Alorica, automation and now the safety and economic hardships of BPO workers because of the pandemic,” the group said.

Two government agencies expressed concern over the NTC’s move. The National Anti-Poverty Commission-Formal Labor and Migrant Workers Sector (NAPC -FLMWS) called it “unjust and insensitive to the current plight of the workers.”

NAPC-FLMWS Sectoral Representative Edwin Bustillos added: “The NAPC-FLMWS urges Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, to fast-track its legislative hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise and look at its impact to the workers and their families and those whose livelihood are dependent on it.”

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said NTC’s order “sends a chilling effect on free media and impacts negatively on freedom of expression.”

“At this point, we cannot stress enough how access to credible information is crucial in addressing the spread of Covid-19. With the station off the air, we lose another voice that people rely on for critical information on how to protect themselves and their loved ones from the ill-effects of the virus,” CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

She also took note of the timing and irony of the situation. “After we commemorated Labor Day on May 1, workers of ABS-CBN now face the uncertainty of having no means to support themselves, their families, and even fellow Filipinos in this dire time. “

The D&D Consortium said NTC’s “outrageous conduct cannot be understood apart from the wider context of the Duterte administration’s war on the media: the harassment of Rappler, the bullying of the Inquirer, the attacks against VERA Files and PCIJ, the red-tagging of and cyber-attacks against alternative news groups and the arrests of some of their journalists, the state-sponsored trolling of independent media.”

The Consortium warned: “If the nation will allow an unjust ABS-CBN shutdown to stand, we should all expect increased media harassment, more widespread and more malevolent disinformation, worse obscenities committed against journalism in the name of the law.”

The Makati Business Club (MBC) likewise extended its solidarity with media groups in expressing its concern that the shutdown of ABS-CBN Corp.’s broadcast operations will be a blow to press freedom, which is a pillar of a democratic society.

Noting that there are pending bills in Congress for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, MBC urged the legislators to “address them while defending constitutional rights and freedoms; accord equal treatment as other companies with expired franchises and pending applications; and preserve broadcast and communications systems that can deliver truth, news, and information to even the farthest points of the country, especially at this time.”

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