Not content with shutting down ABS-CBN’s free radio and TV operations, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Tuesday ordered the company’s subsidiary Sky Cable Corp. to close channels that air on its digital TVPlus service and to stop its direct-to-home satellite transmission.
In doing so, the NTC said when ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise expired on May 4, so did Sky Cable’s subsisting congressional franchise to install, operate or maintain a direct broadcast satellite service.
The NTC’s new cease-and-desist order does not affect the company’s cable TV service—at least not yet.
Still, the new move is significant, as it turns the screws on a company with which President Rodrigo Duterte has been at odds since it failed to air some of his paid political advertisements during the 2016 elections.
In a statement, Sky Cable said some 1.5 million subscribers nationwide, including those in remote areas that do not receive television signals, will be deprived of access to the channels they carry that bring them news, information, education and entertainment. More than 4 million people subscribe to TVPlus.
The NTC order also directs Sky Cable to refund the subscribers to its direct-to-home satellite service.
The industry regulator also ordered ABS-CBN to cease and desist from operating digital television transmission through their TVPlus via Channel 43 in Metro Manila.
The significance of the NTC’s actions has not been lost on free press advocates.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Tuesday’s order deprived millions more Filipinos of their right to choose how they receive news and entertainment.
“It is clear that the end goal of this administration is not only to shut down ABS-CBN, but to send a message throughout the media industry that other news organizations may face the same fate unless they surrender their watchdog role… [that is] the critical and independent reportage that is an essential part of the media’s mission,” it said in a statement.
“Watch what we do, not what we say,” was the famous advice that US President Richard Nixon’s first attorney general, John Mitchell, gave the press at the onset of the Nixon presidency in 1969.
Mr. Duterte, through his mouthpiece at the Palace, constantly reminds us that he values and respects freedom of speech, but what have his people been doing?
Only recently, a Manila court convicted a journalist who has been critical of the administration’s bloody war on drugs, of cyber libel—even though the offending article had been published before cyber libel was even a crime.
Then Mr. Duterte’s solicitor general filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to nullify ABS-CBN’s franchise. The petition was rejected, but only after the NTC shut the network down—accomplishing what the President’s hatchet man, the solicitor-general, hoped to do and silencing yet another independent voice in an increasingly bleak media landscape.