Philippines Crack Down on Free Press | ABS-CBN

Press Freedom is Under Unprecedented Attack in the Philippines but Why Should We Care?

While journalists around the world are celebrating World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the rights of journalists in the Philippines are under unprecedented attacks not seen in decades. 

Working with his allies in Congress, the authoritarian-minded President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippine forced ABS-CBN, the country’s largest television and radio network, to shut down its news airing service by refusing to renew the network’s 25-year-old franchise which is set to expire on May 4th this year.

The 66-year-old conglomerate ABS-CBN is Phillipine’s dominating entertainment and media network that employs more than 11,000 people and operates 21 radio and 38 television stations nationwide. 

Since Duterte took office in 2016, he has repeatedly criticized the network for its political bias and threatened for a shutdown. Many suspect this move as Duterte’s intentional move to crack down on his domestic dissents.

In the last few years of Duterte’s presidency, ABS-CBN had closely covered Duterte’s brutal war on drugs that has left thousands of people dead as a result of extrajudicial executions of alleged drug users and dealers. Duterte also criticized the network for their biased criticism towards Duterte’s rule and allegedly refused to air his political ads during the 2016 presidential election.

This new move to crack down free press was soon met with public backlash. Filipino netizens and human rights watchdog immediately denounced the government for their action. Many self-organized protests also emerged on the street demanding the government to stop the crackdown. ABS-CBN has also filed a petition to the Supreme Court hoping to reverse the government’s decision. 

The backsliding of press freedom in the Philippines shouldn’t come as a surprise since Southeast Asia is home to some of the worst repressive regimes in the world. Though Philippine and Thailand are the less repressive ones with some checks and balances of government power, freedom of press continues to be a struggle in the region. 

“Countries in the region [Southeast Asia] have taken advantage of international disinterest in press freedom, and growing global concerns about disinformation…” writes Joshua Kurlantzick for Council on Foreign Relations.

The backsliding of press freedom should matter to all of us. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Though the Philippines may be out of the radar for most people living in the West, it is important to know that press freedom in other countries is important to all of us, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Martin Luther King Jr.

“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 a society with free press, journalists not only offer valuable information beneficial to the public good but also work to keep the government accountable. 

In the current crisis with coronavirus, a free press pressures the government to handle the pandemic effectively brings accountability by reporting any mishandling of the virus and prevents potential cover-up of the virus seen in some authoritarian countries. Failure to control the spread of COVID-19 due to government corruption is putting the entire world at risk.


Simply by reading this article and becoming aware of the issue, you are a step ahead of most people. Congratulation for this first step but you can do more! Share this article on your favorite social media with friends and family. You can also write to your elected representatives about the issue urging them to issue a condemnation on the Duterte regime or perhaps introduce a new bill in Congress.

Before you go, what’s your view on the decline of press freedom in the Philippines as well as Southeast Asia? Why should we care about freedom of the press in other countries? What are some potential risks in regards to the lack of press freedom in other countries? Join the conversation below!

Published on May 12, 2020 at 5:04 PM EST

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