MANILA – Philippine lawmakers voted Friday to reject the license renewal of the country’s largest TV network, shutting down a major news provider that had been repeatedly threatened by the president over its critical coverage.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Franchises voted 70-11 to reject a new 25-year license for ABS-CBN Corp. The National Telecommunications Commission had ordered the broadcaster to shut down in May after its old franchise expired. It halted broadcasting then, but the vote takes it off the air permanently.
Only the House of Representatives, which is dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, can grant such franchises and the chance of any reversal of Friday’s vote is extremely low, lawmakers said.
The network, which used to be viewed by millions of Filipinos on free TV, has been able to continue broadcasting some of its TV and radio news programs over paid cable channels, but with a small fraction of its former viewership.
“We are deeply hurt,” ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak said, but he suggested the company will try to find other ways to return to business.
“Together with our employees and our audiences all over the world, we share in your sadness over this setback,” Katigbak said. “We look forward to the day when we can again reunite.”
In the network’s newsroom, journalists hugged each other and wept. “We lost our voice,” Irish Vidal, a news staffer, said in tears. Outside its headquarters, journalists and TV and movie celebrities lit candles and held protest placards.
Duterte and his allies had questioned the network’s compliance with the law and the terms of its franchise, including its alleged use of a dummy corporation and large numbers of non-regular workers without employment security. The company denied any wrongdoing in a dozen televised House hearings.