CBS-ABN shutdown controversy: How they covered it

Photo: Patrick Roque / CC BY-SA 4.0

A round-up of how the media covered the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ leading TV broadcaster, after its license was not renewed.


Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s long-running dispute with ABS-CBN came to a head earlier this week when the broadcaster’s license was not renewed. After the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease and desist notice it went off the air on Tuesday evening (May 5). Two days later, the station asked the Supreme Court for a Temporary Restraining Order.

The decision caused an uproar

The Philippine Star was one of many publications to feature quotes from politicians past and present lamenting the decision. It reported Senate President Ralph G. Recto’s opinion that the punishment for ABS-CBN did not match the crime.

“The last thing we need in this season of death is an issue that rends our people apart when their attention and energy should be focused on fighting our common enemy,” he said. “The remedy for government was to slap it with a fine—a hefty one that hurts the pocket—but not to impose the business equivalent of capital punishment.”

Former president Benigo Aquino III spoke to Rappler—another outlet with which Duterte has clashedand predicted that ABS-CBN would return to the airwaves soon. “This administration has put itself into a corner unnecessarily. If there is a significant and sustained support for the reopening of [ABS-CBN], it will happen,” he said.

For some, the shutdown will have a dramatic effect

With areas in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, people are relying on broadcasters to disseminate important news and information. In some regions, there are no other TV channels available.

Although ABS-CBN is no longer broadcasting, its website remains live, and its journalists found themselves in the unusual position of reporting on their TV and radio colleagues’ misfortune. They ran a piece explaining how the loss of ABS-CBN deprives the deaf community of a valuable resource.

A statement from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies explained, “Watching news programs, particularly ones with Filipino Sign Language interpreting insets, has given us a semblance of security and a sense of comfort during this time of COVID-19.” It followed up by calling for the NTC to reverse its decision.

ABS-CBN also highlighted the reaction on social media, where the #NoToABSCBNShutdown hashtag gained traction on both Twitter and Facebook. Those pledging their support included Theodore Te, the ex-Supreme Court spokesperson, who wrote, “This is how liberty dies,” and the College Editor’s Guild, who declared the shutdown a “desperate move by the Duterte administration to gag the free press.”

Others called for major changes

Writing in The Philippine Star, Bobit S. Avila argued that it was time for constitutional amendments to remove the necessity for broadcasters to need franchises to operate. “Media should not be required to get franchises. This for me is the root of this problem and it is high time for us to change our Constitution to serve our people,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, CNN Philippines carried quotes by House Minority Leader Benvenido Abante Jr., who called the NTC’s decision an “insult to Congress” before making a case for broadcasting jurisdiction to shift to another department. “The NTC should be abolished and its functions and powers be transferred to the DICT (Department of Information and Communication Technology) where it can be better exercised and hopefully be more responsive to the needs of our changing times,” he said.

Will Duterte show any leniency?

In The Inquirer, Cathrine Gonzales noted comments by Rufus Rodriguez, a lawmaker and member of the House of Representatives, who said: “It is stated that the President will now follow the dictates of what is the decision of the Congress. So let us bring it to him and let him decide.” Duterte is reportedly “neutral” while Rodriguez apportioned some blame to the House of Representatives for delaying a decision. “The buck stops with Congress, not with the executive, not with the judiciary,” he added.

In The Philippine Star, Federico D. Pascual Jr. speculated that Duterte could “save the day” and allow CBS-ABN back on the air. The President has reportedly been “humbled” by the coronavirus pandemic and its impact and could soften his stance.

Pascual also pointed out that press freedom in the Philippines is at stake, asking, “if a giant outfit such as ABS-CBN could be harassed and intimidated by government, what awaits the more modest media who dare to report on abuses, corruption and incompetence of public officials?”

As the channel shut down, it released a statement that said, “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”.

Duterte and the government have the fate of ABS-CBN in their hands. But will they repay the trust ABS-CBN has placed in them?

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