The Philippines’s largest broadcast network has asked the Supreme Court to quash an order by the country’s telecom regulator to shut down its operations, saying it undermined freedom of speech and the public right to information.
ABS-CBN Corp, which has been a repeated target of criticism by President Rodrigo Duterte, asked the court on Thursday to stop the implementation of the order by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
“The public needs the services of ABS-CBN now more than ever, as the country grapples with the effects of COVID-19,” the network said in its petition.
“In this time of public health emergency, ABS-CBN plays a significant role in providing continued employment to thousands of employees and delivering valuable information and entertainment to millions of Filipinos locked down in their homes.”
The network said the NTC gravely abused its authority when it issued the shutdown order instead of giving ABS-CBN a temporary license while its franchise renewal is being deliberated by Congress.
ABS-CBN’s 25-year congressional franchise expired on May 4.
The 66-year-old entertainment and media conglomerate said in it its petition that it employs 11,000 people.
It also operates 21 radio and 38 television stations nationwide and distributes online content. It went off the air on Tuesday to comply with the regulator’s order, to the widespread dismay of labour, business and media groups and opposition legislators.
“To close ABS-CBN now when it is most needed would certainly be detrimental to the public,” it said. “ABS-CBN cannot be closed without compromising the fundamental guarantees of freedom of speech and the press.”
Duterte had repeatedly threatened to shut ABS-CBN, accusing it of producing reports critical of him, including some on his crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left thousands dead.
Various groups have warned that the shutdown was a blow to democracy and press freedom.
Human Rights Watch called on Philippine authorities to immediately put ABS-CBN back on the air.
“Congress should stop ducking responsibility and reverse Duterte’s latest attempt to muzzle the press, especially when the public needs timely and accurate information more than ever,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at the New York-based group.