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Largest Network in the Philippines Denied Licensing Renewal, Reigniting Concerns Over Press Freedoms

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  • The Philippine’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, has been officially taken off the air by the Filipino Congress.
  • The outlet has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen thousands of Filipinos die in extra-judicial killings.
  • This points to a growing trend of the president and his allies silencing outlets and individuals critical of him.
  • The Philippines, once considered a stable and free democracy, currently ranks among the worst in the world when it comes to freedom of the press, according to the World Press Freedom Index.

Largest Broadcaster Pulled Off the Air

The Philippine’s largest broadcaster has been officially pulled off the air by the Filipino Congress after having its broadcast license renewal denied on Friday.

The outlet, called ABS-CBN, employs 11,000 people. It was available to an audience of 60 million and consistently was viewed by over 15 million. It was hoping to receive another 25-year broadcast license after its recent one expired in May.

However, that request was denied by a committee of the House of Representatives after 13 hearings. Most of the committee members are long-time allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been extremely critical of the outlet since taking office.

PHILIPPINES-POLITICS-MEDIA
Supports and employees of ABS-CBN hold signs in front of the House of Representatives, Manila, July 10, 2020. (Miggy Hilario)

Unlike other outlets petitioning for a license renewal, ABS-CBN weren’t allowed to continue using the free public airwaves while its application was pending, meaning it could only be a paid-subscription service.

Following the decision, ABS-CBN’s president and CEO, Carlo Katigbak, said in a statement on Friday, “We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission.” He went on to add the network was “deeply hurt” by the committee’s ruling.

The outlet can appeal, although there isn’t much hope that it’ll be successful.

Covering the War on Drugs

Duterte and his allies have long been critical of the outlet, claiming it’s biased, has long-standing labor violations, and is foreign-owned. This angle of attack was the focus of Duterte’s allies when they questioned the outlet during its hearings; however, many of these claims were debunked during the committee hearings.

As for the claims that its biased, that may be true. The outlet refused to air election ads from Duterte in 2016, and was accused by the then-candidate of favoring his opponent.

The outlet has since been a thorn in Duterte’s side because of its ongoing coverage of his drug war. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged a war on drugs that has seen thousands of vigilante and capricious killings of civilians over accusations they are involved in the drug trade. Police have also been used to carry out attacks.

ABS-CBN has been extremely critical of the attacks and has long kept track of the extra-judicial killings, broadcasting their findings to millions of Filipinos. Duterte already wasn’t a fan of journalists, calling them “sons of bitches” and warning they weren’t exempt from physical attacks, but ABS-CBN’s reporting put it in the crosshairs of the president.

On multiple occasions, the president has stated that he planned to get the broadcaster’s license revoked, even as recently as December telling the station, “I will see to it that you’re out.”

However, despite his long history of disliking the outlet, the president’s spokesman, Harry Roque, tried to distance Duterte from the decision in a statement.

“The palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two coequal branches of government. Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee,”

Duterte’s War on Journalists

ABS-CBN warned its 11,000 employees that if their license wasn’t renewed, they could expect to be laid off. Assuming their appeal is denied, that is expected to happen.

Congressman Carlos Zarate was appalled at this prospect and the committee’s decision, saying, “Why should we add 11,000 more to the number of unemployed in this most difficult time?” He was alluding to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the Philippines particularly hard with over 50,000 cases nationwide.

Human rights and media organizations decried the vote as a continuation of Duterte’s assault of the free press. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a statement, “The decision deprives the Filipino people of an independent source of information when millions are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.”

Another recent example of Duterte’s war against journalists is Maria Ressa, the head of the popular news site Rappler. She has also been critical of the government and its extrajudicial killings as part of its war on drugs. Last month, she was found guilty of libel in a case seen by many as an attempt to silence the site. She faces upwards of six years in prison.

Despite nominally enshrining the freedom of the press in its constitution, the Philippines ranks among the worst in the world in that regard, currently placed at 136 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index.

The Philippine’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index, only ranking marginally better than places like Russia.

In addition to revoking the broadcast license of outlets that are critical of the president and charging reporters with libel, Reporters Without Borders claims, “Private militias, often hired by local politicians, silence journalists with complete impunity.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (BBC)

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At least 38 Dead, Including Many Children, in Thai Daycare Shooting

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The motive for the attack is still unclear, but a recent arrest for drug possession may point to some answers.


The Deadliest Mass Shooting in Thai History

Thailand spent Thursday afternoon grieving after a gunman massacred dozens of people, including kids as young as two years old, in a childcare center.

The tragedy happened in the northeastern rural Nong Bua Lamphu province, one of the poorest in the country.

At around 1:00 p.m., while the children were in naptime, a 34-year-old former police officer armed with a nine-millimeter handgun and a knife barged into the center and began shooting and stabbing those inside. He left in a white pickup truck, reportedly shooting at people from the car and running others over.

Police issued a “most wanted” notice for the gunman, but before they could apprehend him he barricaded himself in his home, where he shot himself, his wife, and their four-year-old child.

At least 38 people were left dead, including the shooter. At least 24 of those people were children.

Ten others were also wounded, six of them critically.

It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single perpetrator in the history of Thailand.

Survivors Search for Answers

Among the dead at the childcare center was a teacher who was eight months pregnant. Her husband wept on local television.

“My wife is due next month,” he said. “I never got to see my wife and child.”

The prime ministers of Britain and Australia, as well as the U.S. embassy in Bangkok and leaders from a host of other nations, sent their condolences to the victims’ families.

“We stand with the people of Thailand and offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” the embassy said in a statement.

The shooter’s motive is still unclear, but authorities said he had been fired from the police force in June after getting arrested for possession of methamphetamine. National Police Chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat told reporters he believed the gunman was on drugs during the shooting, though he provided no evidence for the claim.

He added that the gunman was due to appear in court Friday on drug-related charges.

Regional police spokesman Paisal Lauesomboon offered a different explanation of the attack, saying that the shooter had been in court earlier Thursday to attend a hearing and subsequently drove to the childcare center where his own son was enrolled. When he could not locate his son, this account claims, he began the massacre.

A teacher who survived the attack contradicted that story, however, telling reporters the gunman began shooting as soon as he approached the center.

She said he struck a group of teachers eating lunch outside, but she managed to escape alive because he ran out of ammunition.

Thailand has some of the highest gun ownership and gun homicide rates in Asia, partially owing to the immense underground traffic of firearms through the black market.

A mass shooting of similar scale scarred the country in 2020, when a soldier used an assault rifle to slaughter at least 29 people at a shopping mall.

We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.

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Students Across Iran Lead Anti-Regime Protests

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The supreme leader finally broke his silence on the unrest to blame the “riots” and “chaos” on a plan by the United States, the “Zionist regime and their followers.”


The Hijabs Come off

As the new academic year began this week, students across Iran turned their classrooms into stages for anti-regime demonstrations.

Videos posted to social media show female students removing their hijabs and chanting “Death to the dictator!” as they stomped on pictures of “their rulers,” as one post put it.

In one viral video, girls who had shed their headscarves at a school in Karaj, just outside Tehran, surrounded their principal and screamed at him while throwing objects.

The principal, whom the post describes as “pro-regime,” fled the scene as they yelled that he is “without honor.”

“Typically, when protests occur in Iran, they usually are restricted to streets or university campuses or they are led by workers or teachers,” Vahid Yücesoy, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Montreal who shared the video, told Newsweek. “The fact that they have now arrived at high schools is a very unprecedented development.”

It’s been roughly three weeks since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by morality police for violating Iran’s dress code and ended up comatose in a hospital.

Multiple reports claimed that officers beat her head with batons, though authorities countered that her death was rather due to a “sudden heart failure.”

The death toll from clashes between law enforcement and protesters may be as low as 41, according to Iranian state media last week, or as high as 133, according to the Norway-based group Iran Human Rights. Amnesty International has put the number at 52, and it said on Friday that hundreds of people had been injured and thousands arrested.

Campus Becomes a Bloody Warzone

Security forces trapped hundreds of students from Tehran’s elite Sharif University in a campus parking lot, assailed them with tear gas, and shot at them with less lethal rounds Sunday, according to reports and videos posted to social media.

“They had guns, they had paintball guns, they had batons,” Farid, whose name was changed for his safety, told CNN. “They were using gases… [that are] banned internationally… it was a war zone… there was blood everywhere.”

A video reviewed by the outlet shows security forces detaining students and carrying them on motorbikes.

The event took place on the first day of school after many students chose to protest the regime instead of attending classes. Farid said a group of protesters was confronted on campus by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was called in by campus security.

“They told them that ‘if you go near the subway station, we will start shooting, go back to the university,’” He added. “And then after half of the students got back into the university, they let the others into the parking lot. And after that, they started shooting them with paintballs and taking them into custody in a very, very savage way.”

The university’s Students Islamic Association urged in a Monday statement that all “professors and students at Sharif University not to attend classes until all arrested students are released.”

Iranian state news agency IRNA said Monday that 30 of the 37 students arrested during the protests had been released, citing a source at the university.

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finally broke his silence regarding the protest movement, saying he was dismayed at Amini’s death during a graduation ceremony for military cadets at the Imam Hassan Training Center.

“Yes, this was a bitter incident. My heart was also pained,” he said.

But he also condemned the protest movement as “not natural” and “planned” by the United States, the “Zionist regime and their followers,” using his term for the state of Israel.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Newsweek) (NPR)

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Police Cause Stampede Killing 125 at Indonesian Soccer Stadium

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The sports game turned bloodbath was among the deadliest in the sport’s history.


Trampled by the Crowd

At least 125 people died after police fired tear gas, sparking a chaotic stampede toward the exits at a soccer match in Indonesia, according to local officials.

The game between Arema, the home team in East Java’s Malang city, and Persebaya Surabaya took place Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium.

The event organizer had prohibited Persebaya fans from attending the game in an effort to prevent rivalrous brawling, but that only ensured the stadium would be exclusively packed with riled-up Arema fans.

When Arema lost 3-2, hundreds of spectators poured onto the field and some reportedly threw bottles and other objects at the players and managers. Several cop cars were also toppled outside the stadium and set ablaze.

Eyewitness accounts claim that riot police beat people with shields and batons, then fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd and even into the stands.

Hordes of people, many of them dizzy and blinded by the chemical, clambered desperately for the exits.

The ensuing stampede quickly left 34 people dead, both from being trampled and suffocated, including two police officers and possibly some children, according to some reports. Many more were badly hurt and rushed to hospitals, but as dozens of them succumbed to their injuries, the death toll climbed to at least 125.

An official estimate initially put the number at 174, but it was later revised down due to some deaths being counted twice.

As many as 300 other individuals may have sustained injuries during the incident.

Who is to Blame?

Some human rights groups pointed fingers at the police for provoking the mayhem by improperly deploying tear gas.

“The excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities,” Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.

The Foundation also blamed the local soccer committee, which sold 42,000 tickets in a stadium only meant to seat 38,000 people, for filling the venue over capacity.

Typically, tear gas is meant to put distance between the rioters and police, dispersing the crowd in an intended direction, not to be used indiscriminately in a secure location like a sports stadium.

Moreover, the global soccer governing body FIFA prohibits the use of tear gas.

“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” President Joko Widodo said in a televised address. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”

He said he had asked National Police Chief Listyo Sigit to investigate the incident and ordered an evaluation of security at soccer matches.

East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas in a news conference on Sunday.

“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he said.

Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.

Dozens of Indonesians have died in soccer-related violence since the 1990s, but Saturday’s tragedy is among the deadliest in soccer history.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times)

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