- The Philippine government shut down the country’s biggest news broadcaster on Tuesday.
- President Rodrigo Duterte has long attacked the network, ABS-CBN, which has extensively reported on his so-called war on drugs that has killed thousands.
- The decision to shutter a major source of news during the pandemic was widely criticized, but it represents a growing trend of attacks on press freedoms by Duterte’s administration.
The Philippine government ordered the country’s largest news network, ABS-CBN, to stop operations on Tuesday, marking the first time that a major broadcaster has been shut down by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The move comes when the company’s license expired Monday after the Philippines’ Congress failed to renew it.
Congress has the sole power to grant broadcast licenses, but the Lower House, which is stacked with Duterte’s allies, has refused to pass bills that would renew ABS-CBN’s permit.
The company has been around for nearly 75 years, and according to the Strait Times, ABS-CBN’s TV channel “is watched by two out of five Filipinos, which is roughly 40 million.”
The network also runs a popular radio station that has a 25% share of the market. It has a cable TV channel and operates a subsidiary that offers online content, both of which are not included in the shutdown order.
The decision is even more significant because the government is deciding to shut down the biggest TV news network in the middle of the pandemic. As of Tuesday, the Philippines has reported over 9,600 confirmed cases and 630 deaths.
Much of the population is under strict quarantine measures, and last month, Duterte ordered the police and military to shoot and kill anyone who violated the lockdown.
According to reports, ABS-CBN was on the front lines of the pandemic, reporting on hard topics like the state of health care workers and hunger under quarantine.
On top of that, the network also said that it gave relief goods worth nearly $6 million to about 600,000 families that were under lockdown.
Duterte vs. ABS-CBN
While the governments’ decision is highly consequential, it is not entirely out of the blue.
Duterte has been threatening to close ABS-CBN since he took office in 2016, and his beef with the network goes back even before he was president.
During the 2016 election, he accused the company of refusing to run one of his political ads— which it denied. Since then, he has also accused the network of tax evasion, called its reporters “sons of bitches,” and accused them of being spies.
Meanwhile, ABS-CBN has been closely and critically documenting Duterte’s so-called war on drugs, which has killed thousands. As a result, Duterte has repeatedly said he would never sign a law renewing ABS-CBN’s broadcast license.
He even told the network’s owners to sell the company if they wanted the license— a move that pushed many to believe he wanted an ally of his to take over the leading broadcaster.
Then, in February, ABS-CBN’s president apologized to Duterte in a Congressional hearing. Duterte accepted the apology but said the license renewal was up to Congress, which continued to hold up that process.
The Department of Justice and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) had previously told Congress a temporary permit would be issued to let the network continue operations after its license expired.
But on Sunday, the government’s top lawyer, Jose Calida, threatened to charge the NTC with graft if they gave ABS-CBN the permit.
While Calida claimed that the NTC does not have the power to give out those permits, others pointed out that it is something the regulator has done a number of times before.
As a result, the unusual move received a lot backlash, even from some of Duterte’s allies, like Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri who called the move “highly irregular.”
“I know for a fact that there are many stations operating on a provisional authority,” he added. “We can cite many instances when the NTC granted a provisional authority for those still applying for their franchises.”
The effort to shut down ABS-CBN was also met with criticism from industry groups and human rights activists, many of whom called it an attack on press freedoms and freedom of speech.
“ABS-CBN’s indefatigable journalists have fully embraced their role to provide the public with vital information on the pandemic despite risks to their health and safety,” the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a statement.
“ABS-CBN’s indefatigable journalists have fully embraced their role to provide the public with vital information on the pandemic despite risks to their health and safety,” it continued. “The move is clearly a case of political harassment against a pillar of Philippine democracy that employs thousands of Filipinos whose livelihoods are now at risk with the order.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines hit on similar points in a series of tweets.
“It sends a clear message: What Duterte wants, Duterte gets. And it is clear, with this brazen move to shut down ABS-CBN, that he intends to silence the critical media and intimidate everyone else into submission,” the organization wrote.
Human Rights Watch also condemned the move, saying Calida should “stop acting like Duterte’s attack dog.” The hashtags #NoToABSCBNShutDown, #IStandWithABSCBN, and #DefendPressFreedom also trended top on Twitter, with many slamming the move there.
Broader Issues of Press Freedoms
Despite the significance of the government’s decision, this, unfortunately, speaks to a broader trend in the Philippines.
According to the Washington Post, the country was once considered to have the freest press in Asia, but recently, it has consistently been ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.
Duterte’s administration has furthered that hostile environment for reporters, and Duterte himself has openly threatened journalists and media outlets. He has made death threats against some reporters, and said that no journalists should be “exempted from assassination.”
This is also not the first time Duterte has acted out against a news organization. His government has gone after Maria Ressa, who runs the Manila-based online news service Rappler, which has also extensively covered Duterte’s drug war.
Last year, Ressa told 60 Minutes that she had been threatened with imprisonment, rape, and death for her reporting. According to CBS News, she is currently facing nearly a dozen court cases.
Ressa also told CBS that “Duterte’s policies were an attempt to silence and manipulate the media to pervert the course of democracy, and she called it ‘a cautionary tale for the United States.’”
See what others are saying: (The Strait Times) (The Washington Post) (CBS News)
Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests
- Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
- In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
- TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.
Navalny Calls for Protests
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.
Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.
Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.
Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”
“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.
Censorship Payoff Unknown
For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.
According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.
It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.
See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Accusations Against Chinese Actress Shine Light on the Nation’s Surrogacy Laws
- Chinese actress Zheng Shuang is facing major backlash after her former partner, Zhang Heng, accused her of abandoning her two children born through U.S.-based surrogates.
- Beyond public outcry and losing brand deals, Zheng is likely facing legal consequences after a Chinese government agency said that using a legal loophole to obtain a surrogate from abroad was “definitely not innocent.”
- Zheng denies the claims and hasn’t confirmed if the children are actually hers, although she’s listed as their mother on their birth certificates.
- As for the children in question, Zhang has been taking care of them in the U.S.
American-Based Surrogacy Cause Controversy
Chinese social media users have launched into debates surrounding how the rich and elite circumvent domestic laws in order to obtain surrogate services.
The latest controversy is surrounding actress Zheng Shuang. Though she has never confirmed this publicly, Zheng allegedly went to the U.S. with her-now-ex Zhang Heng and had two children with the help of American surrogates. However, on Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning the children and leaving him to take care of them in the U.S. The couple reportedly broke up before the babies were born due to Zhang’s alleged infidelity.
According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s friend released a voice recording on the Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment. In it, Zhang and Zheng are allegedly having a discussion with their parents over what to do with the then-unborn children. Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng reportedly expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted so late in pregnancy.
Legal Grey Zone Likely Won’t Help
Beyond public outcries, Zheng lost a recent brand deal with Prada that she signed just eight days before the accusations were made. Additionally, other brand partners, such as Aussie, have distanced themselves from the actress. She also faces multiple awards she has won being revoked as well as potential legal consequences.
Currently, surrogacy is illegal in China; however, the laws have a legal grey zone. Technically, providing surrogacy is what is illegal, but obtaining one from abroad is not explicitly mentioned, even if it goes against the spirit of the law.
The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party commented on the situation in a Weibo video post, saying that using this legal loophole to get a surrogacy was “definitely not innocent.”
“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.,” it continued. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of traveling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.”
Following the post, companies like Blued, a gay dating app in China, took down sections of their apps that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas.
Surrogacy is a controversial subject in China, with many actors and actresses obtaining them overseas, but many social media users across the country are against the practice. Officially, the government claims that it “overlooks life” and “tramples the bottom line [of human morality].“
Zheng has denied claims that she abandoned any children, and has never confirmed whether or not she actually has any, although she is listed as the mother on the children’s birth certificates.
As for the children in question, even though Zheng’s father suggested abandoning them in the hospital, her ex has been taking care of them in the U.S.
See What Others Are Saying: (South China Morning Post) (Straits Times) (New York Times)
American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali
- In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
- Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
- The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
- “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”
Kristen Gray Goes Viral
Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.
Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.
Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.
She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.
The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.
Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.
However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.
Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.
“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.
“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.“
The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.
Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.
According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.
In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.
Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.