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Unplugged: NTC orders network off air, says it lacks valid franchise

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The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Tuesday ordered ABS-CBN Corp. to stop operations due to the expiration of its congressional franchise.

Unplugged: NTC orders network off air, says it lacks valid franchise
NIGHT FALLS. The ABS-CBN building and broadcast tower are seen at dusk in this file photo, as the network was ordered to stop its operations on Tuesday by the National Telecommunications Commission.

In an order dated May 5, 2020, the NTC directed ABS-CBN to stop operating its various television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “absent a valid congressional franchise as required by law.”

ABS-CBN Convergence’s franchise expired on March 17, 2020, while ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise ended on May 4, 2020 (Monday).

The network, which airs on Channel 2 on free television and through AM radio dzMM and FM radio MOR, signed off on both platforms after its evening newscast that ended at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Their regional channels and affiliates were expected to follow suit.

READ: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop operations

At 8:30 p.m. on its pay television channel TeleRadyo, anchor Alvin Elchico announced that ABS-CBN management also decided to put them off the air until further notice.

Despite the order, the company's other units and subsidiaries can continue operating because they don't need a congressional franchise, ABS-CBN said in an article on its news website.

ANC, or the ABS-CBN News Channel, can also continue broadcasting as the NTC order does not cover cable news channels.

"ANC is content. Content is not included," said NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios in an interview with DZMM on Tuesday.

ABS-CBN's online assets like its news, entertainment and sports websites can continue to deliver content. ABS-CBN's video streaming service and app, iWant, can also continue to deliver content to internet users, it added.

Star Cinema, the company's movie production arm, will also be unaffected by the NTC's order.

Earlier, Channel 2 News presenters Noli de Castro—a former Vice President—with Ted Failon and Bernadette Sembrano issued moving farewells, following on-air speeches by ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak and Chairman Mark Lopez.

The regulator’s decision came after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the NTC against the issuance of provisional authorities to allow ABS-CBN and its affiliate, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., to continue operating despite the expiration of their franchises.

Calida had opposed a proposal for the NTC to grant provisional authorities to the broadcasting company, saying that under the 1987 Constitution, only Congress has the exclusive power to grant franchises to public utilities, such as broadcasting companies.

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ABS-CBN was also given 10 days from receipt of the order to respond as to why the frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.

Republic Act No. 7966, which granted ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise to operate TV and radio broadcasting stations, expired on May 4, 2020.

The Radio Control Law bars the operation of a radio broadcasting station without a franchise from Congress.

The NTC regional offices will implement the closure order in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The NTC said it will schedule the case for hearing at the earliest time after the Enhanced Community Quarantine is lifted by the government.

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ABS-CBN and subsidiaries had 6,730 regular employees, 900 non-regular employees and 3,325 talents and project-based employees as of 2018.

A statement issued by ABS-CBN said millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news at a time when people need crucial and timely information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ABS-CBN has been providing comprehensive news coverage on the public health crisis and working with local governments and the private sector in providing food and basic goods for those in need through its Pantawid ng Pag-ibig campaign. To date, it has delivered over P300 million worth of goods for the benefit of over 600,000 families affected by the enhanced community quarantine,” the company said.

“We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best interest of the Filipino people in mind, recognizing ABS-CBN’s role and efforts in providing the latest news and information during these challenging times.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NTC order takes effect immediately but can be reviewed by courts.

"A CDO (cease and desist order) is immediately executory but still appealable to the courts," Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

However, Guevarra said that compliance with the NTC order will be up to ABS-CBN.

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Guevarra’s position on the matter was essentially similar to that of Congress, which had urged the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority.

"The NTC issued a cease-and-desist order instead. It must have a very good reason for doing so. Let's wait for its explanation," Guevarra said.

When asked what the legal implications are if ABS-CBN disregards the NTC order and airs tonight, Guevarra said: "The NTC will have to enforce it if ABS-CBN will not voluntarily comply."


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