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Philippine broadcaster attacked by Duterte faces more turmoil

Regulator orders ABS-CBN to shut down more services in fresh financial blow

ABS-CBN has been told to stop more of its operations by a state regulator.   © AP

MANILA -- Shares in ABS-CBN, the Philippines' largest broadcaster and a target for President Rodrigo Duterte, slipped on Wednesday at the prospect of further turmoil after it was ordered by the government to shut down more services.

The state television and telecom regulator issued two notices on Tuesday ordering the immediate "cease and desist" of ABS-CBN's digital TV service in metropolitan Manila, as well as direct broadcast satellite services by the group's majority-owned Sky Cable unit.

It comes after ABS-CBN was forced to shut its popular flagship channel and radio stations on May 5 after its 25-year legislative franchise expired, resulting in an estimated 35 million ($702,000) pesos in advertising losses daily.

The fresh shutdown notices are related to the expiration of ABS-CBN's legislative franchise, according to the National Telecommunications Commission, which also ordered the company to reimburse subscribers for Sky's direct broadcast satellite service.

Sky said 1.5 million subscribers will be affected. The digital TV service had 8.9 million subscribers as of last year, but it was not immediately clear how many are in Metro Manila.

In a statement, ABS-CBN said it will refund Sky's customers and said it "will exhaust all legal remedies to resume our services." It also urged regulators to extend it the privilege previously given to other companies whose franchises expired but were allowed to operate until issues were resolved.

The developments are set to deal further financial blow to the publicly traded broadcaster, whose shares have been battered by its franchise woes.

Shares in ABS-CBN opened 2.4% lower on Wednesday, compared with a 0.5% dip for the broader market.

Duterte previously threatened to block the network's franchise renewal. "If you are expecting [a franchise renewal] I am sorry. I will see to it that you are out," Duterte said in December.

The president has accused the TV network of not airing his ads in the May 2016 elections, but press freedom advocates said ABS-CBN's case is an instance of pressure on independent media.

The country's House of Representatives is hearing ABS-CBN's franchise renewal but senior lawmakers allied with Duterte's coalition in the congress have launched a bid against the TV network's bid.

ABS-CBN, owned by the influential Lopez family, is not the only media company that has faced pressure from Duterte's government. News site Rappler is battling legal cases over tax and foreign ownership issues, while its head, Maria Ressa, was convicted of "cyber libel" from a private complaint in mid-June. The owners of Philippine Daily Inquirer, a critical daily, were also threatened with legal cases.

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