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Philippines Orders Leading TV Network to Halt Operations

Protesters light candles while they hold banners, during a rally in metropolitan Manila, Philippines, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. The Philippine government's chief lawyer asked the Supreme Court on Monday to shut down the country's largest TV network,…

A Philippine government agency on Tuesday ordered the country's leading broadcast network, which the president has targeted for its critical news coverage, to halt operations.

The National Telecommunications Commission ordered ABS-CBN Corp. to stop operations after its 25-year congressional franchise ended Monday. The network's application for a renewal has been pending in Congress but hearings have been partly delayed by a massive lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the country's oldest and most influential news networks, ABS-CBN continued its TV and radio news operations most of Tuesday but later announced it would stop operating later in the day.

"Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on TV and radio tonight when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic," the media giant said in a statement.

Media watchdogs have accused President Rodrigo Duterte and his aides of muzzling independent media like ABS-CBN that have critically reported on issues including the president's bloody anti-drugs crackdown, which has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.

Government officials have denied the closure was a press freedom issue and stressed everybody should comply with the law.

Congressional leaders have asked the telecommunications commission to grant ABS-CBN a temporary license to operate while its franchise renewal request is pending, but the government's solicitor general, Jose Calida, has warned the TV and radio network cannot operate without an approved franchise.

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.