'Unfair': Palace decries reports linking Duterte to ABS-CBN shutdown

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 07 2020 11:03 AM

Free press advocates show support for ABS-CBN Corp during a protest calling for press freedom, February 14, 2020. ABS-CBN News

MANILA- Reports linking President Rodrigo Duterte to the shutdown of the broadcast operations of ABS-CBN Corp were "unfair," Malacañang said Thursday as it distanced the chief executive from the order of state regulators that forced the media giant off air.

ABS-CBN went off air Tuesday night and made international headlines as rights groups, lawmakers, and the general public decried the shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said reports connecting ABS-CBN's status to the President's threats against the company are " totally unfair and objectionable."

"This assertion is remarkably erroneous, lacks objectivity and scant in factual basis. Simply, a false narrative," Andanar said in a statement.

Andanar made the remark even as President Duterte had repeatedly threatened to block the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, which expired on May 4, over unaired political advertisements during the 2016 elections.

Last December 30, 2019, the President urged the owners of ABS-CBN to just sell the company.

Employees and supporters of ABS-CBN network gather in front of Sgt. Esguerra gate to press the government to grant the renewal of franchise and to respect the freedom of the press. February 14, 2020. Angie De Silva, ABS-CBN News

While Duterte in February accepted ABS-CBN's apology over the issue of his unaired ad, he clarified that he would leave the fate of the company's franchise to Congress, which is dominated by his allies.

Andanar said the National Telecommunications Commission's order to ABS-CBN to "cease and desist" from broadcasting on television and radio is an "independent and impartial decision."

"Let us be reminded that President Duterte has accepted the apology of ABS-CBN Corporation and this thereby undermines any assumption that the President was behind NTC's decision," he said.

NOT A PRESS FREEDOM ISSUE?

Andanar, a former reporter, also denied that the ABS-CBN shutdown falls within the issue of press freedom, noting that the fate of the company's franchise is up to Congress.

Several journalists and rights groups have expressed support to ABS-CBN, decrying the shutdown order as a curtailment of press freedom.

"This is not an issue of press freedom but an issue regarding legislative franchise. Democracy, and the free press and free speech that come with it, is very much alive in the country and effectively protected," he said.

"The mandate of a broadcast franchise issuance and renewal is within the authority of the Congress, and not solely of the President, who only signs the law to be executory," he added.

Several bills seeking a fresh 25-year franchise for ABS-CBN have languished in Congress for years.

"Decision regarding the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN falls within the purview and wisdom of Congress and ABS-CBN has the right to pursue any and exhaust all legal remedies it deems necessary to resolve the matter," Andanar said.

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