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Philippine gov't asks court to shut down leading TV network

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government’s chief lawyer asked the Supreme Court on Monday to shut down the country’s largest TV network by revoking its operating franchises because of alleged constitutional violations, in a move critics called an attempt to muzzle the media.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly attacked ABS-CBN Corp., along with at least two other news agencies, for making critical reports about him, including his crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead.

Solicitor-General Jose Calida said he filed the petition against the TV network and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., for abusing its franchises and violating a constitutional prohibition on foreign investment in Philippine media. ABS-CBN denied the allegations.

Calida accused ABS-CBN of “broadcasting for a fee, which is beyond the scope of its legislative franchise.” He said the network launched a pay-per-view channel without approval or a permit from the government’s National Telecommunications Commission.

Calida said the TV network accepted foreign investment through documents called Philippine Deposit Receipts that were issued by a holding company in violation of the constitutional ban.

“We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefiting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers,” Calida said. “These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years.”

He said ABS-CBN Convergence resorted to an “ingenious corporate layering scheme” to transfer its franchise without congressional approval.

ABS-CBN said Calida’s allegations were baseless and that it has complied with Philippine laws and secured permits to run its broadcast operations.

“We did not violate the law. This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN,” said the network, known for its live coverage of major breaking news across the Philippines.

It added that the Securities and Exchange Commission, the government’s corporate watchdog, has approved its moves to raise capital and that they are similar to efforts by other local broadcast companies.

The franchises are due to expire in March. Some legislators have filed bills seeking to renew the franchises, although it remains to be seen whether they will be approved in the House of Representatives, where Duterte’s allies have a strong majority.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called on Congress and the Supreme Court to show they are co-equal branches of government “that are not at the beck and call of the Executive.”

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte had nothing to do with the legal action against the TV network.

The government also has accused an online news organization, Rappler, of violating the constitutional ban on foreign ownership and sought its closure. Rappler has denied the allegations and continues to operate.

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