MANILA — A significant Philippine information community that just lately misplaced its broadcast license closed a dozen regional information operations on Friday, in what advocates referred to as the most recent blow to the nation’s impartial press.
The community, ABS-CBN, which President Rodrigo Duterte has incessantly accused of bias, mentioned it couldn’t afford to maintain the native newsrooms going. Lawmakers within the Home of Representatives, which is essentially managed by allies of Mr. Duterte, voted in July to not renew the community’s broadcast franchise; its major channels had already been pulled off the air in Might, when its license expired.
However the community’s cable operation remained intact, as a result of it’s run by a unique unit inside ABS-CBN. And till Friday, its regional information groups stored offering protection for native and nationwide audiences, which viewers may nonetheless watch on cable and the web.
For a lot of of these viewers, the best loss might be “TV Patrol,” a preferred nightly newscast that has been produced for 3 a long time. Local variations of this system mixed nationwide information with regional protection, delivered in regional dialects. Friday’s “TV Patrol” was the final in that format, although a extra restricted model will nonetheless be produced in Manila, the capital.
“My coronary heart breaks for our colleagues within the areas, who tried to serve their public regardless of extreme limitations,” mentioned Maria Regina Reyes, the Manila-based head of reports at ABS-CBN. “It’s tragic that native audiences will lose a well-recognized and essential supply of data, particularly presently.”
Many had seen ABS-CBN’s protection as a lifeline for Filipinos in distant provinces as they struggle to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Its regional news operations had their own broadcast channels before the network lost its license; after that, they continued to produce “TV Patrol” and other programming, which they sent to Manila to be shown online and through cable.
Regional employees also “did their best to continue producing and streaming our local ‘TV Patrol’ on the regional Facebook pages and YouTube channels,” Ms. Reyes said.
Mr. Duterte has denied that he had anything to do with Congress’s decision not to renew the network’s franchise. But he often accused ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcaster, of biased coverage of his antidrug war, which has left thousands dead since he became president in 2016. He has called himself a “casualty” of the network, which is owned by the Lopez family.
The family’s now-deceased patriarch, Eugenio Lopez, escaped from jail and fled to the United States in the 1970s, during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. He returned after Mr. Marcos’s downfall in 1986 and re-established the network. Mr. Duterte, another strongman leader, is an admirer of the late Mr. Marcos.
ABS-CBN said it was no longer profitable to keep operating its regional newsrooms because it had lost so much advertising revenue since being taken off the air. It said thousands of staff members would lose their jobs. ABS-CBN Regional, the arm of the company that oversees the local operations, will also stop producing its nine morning shows, which combined news and entertainment coverage.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines called the developments “an avoidable national tragedy.”
“Millions of Filipinos outside Metro Manila will lose a fast 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 unreached by other networks can dangerously lose their access to national news, including government pronouncements.”
Mr. Duterte’s critics say he has gone after media outlets that closely documented his war on drugs, including ABS-CBN and Rappler, an online publication whose chief executive was convicted of cyber libel in June.
Some ABS-CBN staff members were working through grief on their last day. “I am still working and looking for updates for my final report later,” Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN’s news chief in the southern city of Zamboanga, said on Friday, tears welling up.
Ms. Casimiro led ABS-CBN’s coverage this week of two suicide bombings on the southern island of Jolo, across the strait from Zamboanga, which killed 15 people.
An ABS-CBN journalist in the eastern region of Bicol, Mylce Mella, mentioned that she and a few colleagues may arrange a information media cooperative. “We’re simply attempting to fill the void of shedding ABS-CBN Bicol,” she mentioned. “I’m writing my remaining tales now.”
Ms. Casimiro had packed her issues from the workplace, together with previous VHS tapes of her protection of previous terror assaults. For her final week, she had primarily been on her personal, reporting and working a digital camera, as a result of the common employees had already been let go.
“I’m attempting to come back up later with a follow-up report, however I can’t cease crying,” she mentioned. “If solely I may promote my tears.”