May 5, 2020 – The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered the Philippine broadcast giant ABS-CBN to shutdown its broadcast operations for the lack of a valid congressional franchise. The NTC filed a cease-and-desist order to the company from broadcasting on television and radio effective immediately, a day after its operating franchise expired.
After the order has been released by the NTC, ABS-CBN issued this statement, mostly via their online platforms.
7:46 PM – After airing a live message from its President and CEO, Carlo Katigbak during the TV Patrol news, and at the peak of its evening primetime, the media network ABS-CBN shutdown by going off-air following the cease-and-desist order of the NTC.
ABS-CBN Shutdown Controversial Timing
The timing of the NTC order is deemed by many as controversial, considering the crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, most of the government agencies including the judiciary is following skeletal force to address the rising cases of COVID-19 infection.
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The broadcasting giant has, in the past, angered President Rodrigo Duterte, because of the non-airing of his political ads during the 2016 national election campaign season. These were paid in full amounting to ₱2.6 Million. Some close allies of the President even alleged that ABS-CBN exhibited bias and openly sided with another 2016 presidential candidate during the 2016 National Elections.
Back in April 2017, the President even blurted in a TV interview to block the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. On February 24, 2020, ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak apologized to the President publicly through the Senate hearing. Later that day, the President accepted the apology and quipped not to meddle with the proceedings.
As early as 2014, there has been a continued effort to lobby the renewal of the TV station’s franchise license through the Senate and the House of the Representatives. All documents and requirements that were required for the franchise renewal had been submitted by the company to Congress, which had the sole authority to grant company’s franchise renewal.
On February 24, 2020, both branches started conducting its own hearing on the matter. This ended with providing a recommendation to the NTC to issue a provisional permit while the bills for the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress.
Even at this time, months before their franchise expired, the sentiments of the people are divided — those who support ABS-CBN, and those who push for their shutdown.
Solicitor General Jose Calida strongly opposes the issuance of NTC’s provisional license to the TV station. He even threatened the filing of graft charges (against the NTC) if they proceed with granting a provisional authority to operate, saying that NTC has no power to do so. On May 5, NTC ordered a cease-and-desist order to the TV station on the basis that its franchise license has already expired. ABS-CBN’s 25-year license expired on Monday, May 4, 2020.
The Welfare of ABS-CBN Employees
According to news, ABS-CBN Group, including its subsidiaries, has around 11,000 employees. The station provides jobs to more than 11,000 Filipinos through regular employment, project and program-based positions, independent contractors, and on-camera talents. In fact, a good number of its employees and talents are from Bulacan.
The said NTC order is feared to directly impact the 11,000 employees of the TV station and their families while the House committee on legislative franchises hearing is still ongoing. According to news, ABS-CBN executives assured its employees that no retrenchment will happen in the next three months. In addition, employees will also receive their full benefits including health insurance in the coming three months. It is unclear if this includes everyone, including those who are not regular employees.
Even after the network signed off yesterday, the sentiments of the public continue to be split. There are still those who favor the shutdown; and those who spread the #NoToABSCBNShutdown sentiment.
The future of the ABS-CBN franchise lies with the decision of Congress.