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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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Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny

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  • Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
  • The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.

Largest Russian Protests in Recent History

Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.

Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.

Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.

Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.

Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.

Changing the Message

The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.

Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.

Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.

In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.

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

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Some Flyers Are Forging Old COVID-19 Tests To Travel

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  • As a number of countries and airlines impose rules requiring negative COVID tests up to 72 before flights, more and more people have been forging old tests to make them look new.
  • In a recent report from Vice’s Motherboard, two anonymous men detailed how they forged documents to avoid having to pay for new ones.
  • “Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” one man told Motherboard. 

Forging Old COVID-19 Tests

Many countries are now requiring flyers to present negative COVID-19 tests no more than 72 hours before they board planes; however, some people are reportedly forging their test results to get around the restrictions. 

According to Vice’s Motherboard, one anonymous individual used Photoshop to change the date of several of his friends’ older coronavirus tests. 

“Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” the man told the outlet. 

Another person told Motherboard that he had changed the date of an old test result using Microsoft Paint in order to travel to Southern Europe for vacation.

Situations like this in Europe are not completely new.

“We needed a COVID-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’,” one person told The Sun in October.

While those people seemingly got away with potential forgery crimes, others haven’t.

Last week, it was reported that 45 people were caught trying to enter Croatia with fake COVID tests. Notably, they could each face up to three years in prison for forging documents. 

Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Dutch girl was also caught with a forged COVID test while trying to escape quarantine in Switzerland. 

Why Are People Forging Documents?

Part of the reason people are forging old COVID-19 tests may be to keep from being barred if a new test comes back positive; however, there also appears to be at least one other major reason: money.

Right now, tests in most European countries are free, but that’s not the case for people trying to go on vacation. 

In fact, people traveling for leisure have been warned not to use free COVID-19 testing services to meet flight demands. Instead, they are required to pay out of pocket to have their test sent to a private company. 

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Independent) (TravelPulse)

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Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • 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)

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