- 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)
5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway
Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.
Super Market Attack
The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.
Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.
The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.
While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”
Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.”
“And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate
The violence is believed to have been instigated by far-right groups that oppose COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related safety measures.
Green Pass Pushback
Demonstrators gathered in Rome over the weekend to protest against Italy’s plans to require a coronavirus “Green Pass” for all workers starting Oct. 15.
The Green Pass is a European Union initiative that shows whether someone is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or has received a negative COVID test in the past 48 hours.
Since August, Italy has required the pass for entry at restaurants and use of long-distance trains, along with nearly every other activity that involves interaction with others or use of a public space. Now, the pass will be required to enter a workplace, which critics argue is particularly harsh.
Individuals who can’t produce a valid Green Pass will be suspended without pay, making it the most extreme of any COVID-19 mandate in the world.
The weekend protests started out peaceful, with people chanting “Liberta,” which means freedom. However, the scene turned violent by Saturday when a group of protesters affiliated with the far-right Forza Nuova party decided to storm the headquarters of the CGIL, Italy’s biggest and oldest labor union.
Protesters then marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, prompting police to respond with anti-riot measures like tear gas, water cannons, and shield charges.
It’s unclear how many protesters were hurt in the ongoing fighting, but dozen of police officers were reportedly hurt in the scuffle. By Sunday evening. at least 12 protesters were arrested, many of who are members of Forza Nuova, including its leader Roberto Fiore. Authorities also indicated in a press conference on Monday that it had identified at least 600 other people who took part in illegal activities during the demonstrations.
Fiore was unapologetic about the rioting, and Forza Nuova said in a statement, “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the Green Pass is definitively withdrawn. Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash.”
Saturday’s events have led many of the country’s largest political parties, including the 5Star Movement and the Democratic Paty, to support a motion calling for Nuova Forza and similar groups to be dismantled in line with a constitutional provision from 1952 that bans fascists parties.
While that motion is still going through the legislative process, prosecutors have already seized the group’s website in line with a 1988 law that bans inciting violence through public communications.
“The events [on Saturday] take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history and they are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy,” Valeria Fedeli, a senator with the center-left Democratic Party, said on Monday.
The violence from the weekend may make it seem like a sizeable chunk of Italians are against the vaccine; however, over 70% of all Italians are already vaccinated, making it one of the highest rates in the world.
According to polling from the summer, most Italians think the new rules will help in the long run and prevent another catastrophe like last year when the country ran out of room to bury the dead due to the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.
Romanian Government To Disband After No-Confidence Vote
The vote comes after Prime Minister Florin Cîțu caused a rift with political allies and faced criticism for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florin Cîțu, Alleged “Tyrant”
Romania’s center-right governing body collapsed Tuesday after the legislature passed a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Florin Cîțu.
The leader’s downfall was facilitated by the normal opposition, the center-left Social Democratic Party, the far-right Alliance for the Unity of Romanians, and the Union to Save Romania. The Union is considered a political wildcard because, until last month, the right-wing party was part of Cîțu’s governing coalition.
The party withdrew from Cîțu’s government after multiple of its members were sacked, including the Justice Minister, prompting the party to describe Cîțu as a “tyrant.”
Other parties in the legislature particularly opposed Cîțu due to his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic since taking office in December. COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed over the last month and have averages over 11,000 daily new cases since October 6.
Tuesday’s no-confidence vote was a landslide victory, with 281 members voting to replace him and all members of his party abstaining or boycotting the vote. Despite this, even if they had voted in favor of Cîțu, the opposition had more than enough to pass the 230 vote threshold.
Avoiding Another Election
President Klaus Iohannis, a staunch ally of Cîțu, has called on the political parties to hold consultations next week and try to form a new government rather than hold new elections because they last occurred in December.
“Romania must be governed; we are in a pandemic, winter is coming, there is an energy price crisis…and now a political crisis. We need solutions and mature decisions,” the president told reporters.
He also took a jab at the Union to Save Romania, saying that the fall of the government was caused by “cynical politicians, some of whom are disguised as reformists.”
The Union responded in a statement of its own, saying it was “unpleasantly surprised by the fact that President Iohannis condoned the rushed, chaotic, and ill-conceived actions of former Prime Minister Florin Cîțu that forced the [Union] to leave the cabinet.”
Some analysts within Romanian media think that Cîțu’s party may try to form a minority government with the Social Democratic Party, the left-leaning party that initiated this no-confidence vote, with the caveat that Cîțu is replaced as Prime Minister. If that doesn’t occur, Iohannis has the power to simply reappoint Cîțu at the risk of another no-confidence vote.
If Cîțu’s appointment is confirmed within 60 days, then elections will take place. The Social Democratic Party, which is already the largest in the legislature, currently stands to win the most seats. Unlike its rivals, the party is polling positively, leading the group to push for new elections sooner rather than later.