Forced off the air, ABS-CBN flexes on-line muscle

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By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

The Philippines’ largest radio-TV broadcast network may have been suddenly yanked off the air after its franchise to operate lapsed last May 4 but the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN continues to provide news and entertainment to millions of Filipinos due to its on-line presence.

Since no government franchise is needed to operate on-line, ABS-CBN continues to deliver news on its YouTube channel, as well on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The long running daily evening news show TV Patrol continued with no change in format or newscasters Noli de Castro, Ted Failon and Bernadette Sembrano.

As for the ABS-CBN Sports + Action channel, its content can still be viewed at the cable sports channel LIGA. Unfortunately, sports fans are still unable to watch the popular Philippine Basketball Association nor the University Athletic Association of the Philippines basketball and volleyball games, as all sporting events remain suspended for the duration of the lockdown.

In place of the live games, old and classic games are being replayed, while past and present sports stars are interviewed regarding their activities in the Covid-19 shutdown.

Said Dino Laurena, ABS-CBN Integrated Sports head, “It’s good that more and more are now getting accustomed to digital platforms. Because of the effect of Covid-19, it has brought us to greater appreciation of new technologies.”

Even the relatively new iWant streaming service showing a wide array of ABS-CBN produced shows and movies continues to operate.

The suspension of the station is seen to be temporary, although it is not known exactly when regular broadcast of its nationwide network of radio and television stations will resume.

It is not only the 11,000 employees of the network who have been left in the dark over their fate. As the country’s top broadcast network, advertising agencies also depend heavily on the network for a large chunk of their revenues.

Immediately after it was shut down, a number of government officials including members of the Duterte Cabinet had pushed for the lifting of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) order suspending ABS-CBN operations until its franchise has been renewed.

Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra, for one, said the network should be allowed to continue operating while its franchise renewal was pending in Congress.

He also said President Duterte had the power to override the NTC suspension order, in contrast to the opinion of presidential spokesman Harry Roque that the President could not interfere with a judicial decision made by the NTC.

This, despite the NTC being under the Office of the President.

ABS-CBN also petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the NTC order.

Officially, Roque said the President was keeping his hands off the suspension of the network, although he had made known on multiple occasions his wish for ABS-CBN to lose its franchise. The President accused the network of not airing his ads at the tail end of his presidential campaign despite the ads having been paid for in advance.

After the public backlash over the shutting down of ABS-CBN, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano warned Solicitor Gen. Jose Calida that “there will be a reckoning” after the latter had warned the NTC not to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating after May 4 or else he would file charges against its executives.

Calida said the closure was actually Cayetano’s fault, as the Speaker had sat on the bills granting the radio-TV station a 25-year extension of its franchise.

NTC officials admitted that they had felt pressured by Calida to issue the suspension order.

Earlier this year, the House extracted a commitment from the NTC to grant a temporary extension of ABS-CBN’s expiring franchise, at least until a vote could be held on whether to grant a renewal to the station.