Philippine media and entertainment conglomerate ABS-CBN Corp. announced that it would attempt retrench some of its 11,000+ employees at the end of August after lawmakers voted to shut down ABC-CBN television and radio stations.
ABS-CBN has been the country’s biggest broadcaster since its establishment in 1946 and owned by one of Philippines most powerful families, the Lopez family. The Lope family has had various business and political run-ins with the Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, who said in December 2019 that he would see to it that the network was closed.
In rejecting the company's application for license renewal, a House committee dominated by Duterte's allies voted 70-11 against license renewal and said that the company was guilty of multiple abuses including biased news reporting, abusive business and labor practices, the broadcasting of shows that were vulgar and tax evasion.
In response to the government’s decision, ABS-CBN said it was “forced” to begin laying off staff ad contract workers from its TV station so that the rest of its staff could remain employed. The company said that it could ultimately be forced to fire thousands of its staff and workers.
The company said in an official statement that, “We are doing all we can to mitigate the pain that will be felt by those affected, including paying out separation and retirement benefits and providing job placement programs.”
The Philippine’s National Telecommunications Commission (PNTC) ordered the broadcaster to cease TV and radio operations on May 5 after its 25-year license expired on May 4.
In June, the regulator also ordered ABS-CBN’s cable TV subsidiary, Sky Cable Corp., to stop its direct broadcast satellite service, Sky Direct and its digital broadcast service, TV Plus.
ABS-CBN had been the most watched TV network and had the biggest audience share in the country in 2019, according to Kantar Media and is popular with millions of viewers, especially for its various newscasts.
Media analysts note that ABS-CBC can continue broadcasting newscasts and entertainment shows on its cable and online networks, but these channels have not been maximized with potential advertisers and were not making enough money to sustain their operations.
Duterte, had repeatedly threatened to close down the broadcaster, since the 2016 presidential election and has accused it of unfair reporting and business practices including refusing to air his paid campaigning Duterte also said in 2018 the network was “swindlers” and "thieves and said: “I will not let it pass. Your franchise will end."
Although the government said that the president had “maintained a neutral stance on the issue,”
Duterte might have been referring to super-rich oligarchy families like the Lopez’s when he told a group of army soldiers that, “without declaring martial law, I dismantled the oligarchy that controlled the economy of the Filipino people”.
Others say that the refusal to relicense ABS-CBN continues the government’s efforts to silence any media that does not it “show it respect and report what the government says” and point to the June 15th decision against Maria Ressa, one of the Philippines’ most prominent journalists, who is facing up to six years in prison after she was found guilty of “cyberlibel” charges, a verdict condemned as setting “an extraordinarily damaging precedent” for press freedoms.
At a press conference after her hearing, Ressa vowed to continue fighting and said, “Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything,”