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Philippines Orders Its Top News Network to Shut Down

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  • 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.

ABS-CBN Shutdown

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.”

Response

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)

International

200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing 

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The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16. 


Children Missing From Hotels

There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.

When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.

In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.

Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.

Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”

Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing. 

However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.”  The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.” 

Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline. 

The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)

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International

100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History

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Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”


The NHS Grinds to a Halt

Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.

The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.

Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.

When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.

In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”

Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.

The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.

During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.

Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament

Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.

“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”

“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”

Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”

Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”

“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”

While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.

Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.

If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.

Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)

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International

Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”

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One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.


Epic Games Sued 

A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.

The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years. 

If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case. 

Epic Games Responds

“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.” 

Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.

The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children. 

“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.” 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Washington Post) (Deadline

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