The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the Supreme Court to shut down the Philippines's largest television network, ABS-CBN, in a move described as a “sign of dictatorship”.
In a legal filing before the highest court on Monday, Duterte's top lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida, said ABS-CBN television network committed “highly abusive practices” in its operation, and its franchise should be revoked.
Calida also alleged that ABS-CBN is “hiding behind an elaborately crafted corporate veil”, allowing foreign entities to invest in the company, “in gross violation of the foreign interest restriction” spelled out in the constitution.
Since becoming president in 2016, Duterte has expressed his disdain towards the television network, which is owned by one of the richest families in the Philippines.
He claimed the channel had refused to run his political advertisements during the campaign – allegations the network has denied – and last year said he would block the renewal of the network's 25-year legislative franchise.
“This ABS, your contract will expire, and you try to renew. I don't know what will happen to you. If I were you, just sell it,” he said in December.
Danilo Arao, journalism professor at the University of the Philippines, said the move showed the Duterte administration was using “full state machinations” against the media.
“In authoritarian rule, we know that the chief enemy of all dictators would be the media,” Arao told Al Jazeera.
“The chilling effect is very clear. It wants to harass and intimidate a particular news media organisation so that other news organisations will toe the line.”
The move was a clear “sign of dictatorship”, he added.
In a statement, ABS-CBN said the petition before the court appeared “to be an effort to shut down ABS-CBN to the serious prejudice of millions of Filipinos who rely on the network for news, entertainment and public service.
“These allegations cited by the Office of the Solicitor General in his press statement are without merit. ABS-CBN complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise and has secured all necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations.”