MANILA – A major Filipino news network that recently lost its broadcasting license plans to shut down a dozen regional news outlets on Friday.
The ABS-CBN network, which President Rodrigo Duterte has often accused of bias, said it could not afford to keep the local newsrooms going. Legislators in the House of Representatives, largely controlled by Mr Duterte's allies, voted in July not to renew the network's broadcast franchise. The main channels had already been pulled out of the air in May when the license expired.
However, the network's cable operations remained intact as it is operated by another unit within ABS-CBN. And his regional news teams continued to cover the local and national audiences, which viewers could still see over cable and the internet.
For many of these viewers, the biggest loss will be TV Patrol, a popular nighttime news show that has been in production for three decades. Local versions of the program combined national news with regional coverage in regional dialects. The "TV Patrol" on Friday will be the last in this format, although a more limited version is being produced in Manila, the capital.
"My heart breaks for our colleagues in the regions who have tried to serve their ministries in public despite severe restrictions," said Maria Regina Reyes, the Manila-based news director at ABS-CBN. “It is tragic that the local audience is losing a familiar and important source of information at this very moment.”
Many had viewed ABS-CBN's coverage as a lifeline for Filipinos in remote provinces when they faced the problem had to fight coronavirus pandemic. The regional news agencies had their own broadcasting channels before the network lost its license. Since then, they have continued to produce TV Patrol and other programs that they have sent to Manila to show online and over cable.
Regional employees have also "done their best to continue producing and streaming our local programs". TV Patrol 'on the regional Facebook pages and YouTube channels, "said Ms. Reyes.
Mr. Duterte has denied that it had anything to do with the decision by Congress not to renew the network's franchise. But he often accused ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcaster, of biased coverage of its anti-drug war, which has left thousands dead since taking office in 2016. He has described himself as a "victim" of the network that belongs to the Lopez family.
The late patriarch of the family, Eugenio Lopez, escaped from prison and fled to the USA in the 1970s during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. After Mr Marcos' fall in 1986, he returned and reestablished the network. Another strong leader, Mr Duterte, is an admirer of the late Mr Marcos.
ABS-CBN said it was no longer profitable to keep its regional newsrooms running because it had lost so much airborne advertising revenue since it was taken. It was said that thousands of employees would lose their jobs. ABS-CBN Regional, the branch of the company that oversees local activities, will also cease production of its nine morning shows, which combine news and entertainment coverage.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines called the developments “an avoidable national tragedy. "
" Millions of Filipinos outside of Metro Manila will lose a quick and credible source of news today as they struggle through a life-threatening crisis, "the association said in a statement. "Many isolated and disaster-prone villages that other networks cannot reach can dangerously lose access to national news, including government statements."
Mr. Duterte's critics say he sought media outlets that accurately documented his war on drugs, including ABS-CBN and Rappler, an online publication whose executive was convicted of cyber defamation in June.
Some ABS-CBN employees worked through grief on their last day. "I'm still working and looking for updates for my final report later," said Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN news chief in the southern city of Zamboanga, on Friday, and tears welled up.
Ms. Casimiro led ABS-CBN's coverage this week of two suicide attacks on the southern island of Jolo across the street from Zamboanga, in which 15 people were killed.
An ABS-CBN journalist in the eastern region of Bicol, Mylce Mella, said she and some colleagues could set up a media cooperative. "We're just trying to fill the void where ABS-CBN Bicol is getting lost," she said. "I'm writing my remaining stories now."
Ms. Casimiro had packed her things from the office, including old VHS tapes of her coverage of past terrorist attacks. In her final week, she had been essentially alone, reporting and operating a camera as the regular staff had already been laid off.
“I'll try to do a follow-up report later. but I can't stop crying, "she said. "If only I could sell my tears."