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Philippine govt under fire over church radio permit delay

Reporters Without Borders wades into controversy saying refusal to renew franchise politically motivated

Philippine govt under fire over church radio permit delay

A nun works in a radio station in Manila, one of at least 29 Catholic radio stations under the Catholic Media Network in the Philippines whose licence remains pending in the country's House of Representatives. (Photo by Jimmy Domingo)

Roy Lagarde, Manila
Philippines

February 12, 2018

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An application to renew broadcast franchises for at least 29 Catholic radio stations in the Philippines got international support from media group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) this week.

The application, seeking a renewal of their license to broadcast for another 25 years, remains pending in a congressional committee.

The RSF expressed concern over the fate of 29 radio stations under the Catholic Media Network (CMN) whose 25-year license expired in August 2017.

The radio stations operate under a franchise the Philippine Congress issued to the Catholic bishops' conference.

"We urge Philippine parliamentarians to address the [CMN] application so that this license can finally be renewed," said Daniel Bastard, head of RDF's Asia-Pacific desk.

He said the failure of legislators to renew the bishops' franchise took a political color because of the clergy's criticisms of the government's deadly anti-narcotics campaign.

The media group said the renewal of the license to broadcast, "should be a mere formality, nothing more than a stamp on a four-page document."

"Given the Catholic Church's criticism of the Duterte administration, this refusal to renew clearly seems to be politically motivated," Bastard said.

Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara, head of the Commission on Social Communications of the bishops' conference, said the delay has nothing to do with the supposed "strain relationship" between church leaders and the Duterte administration.

"We're just waiting ... we can still operate," said the prelate. "There's no closure order, in fairness also to Congress," added Bishop Vergara.

He said church leaders are looking at the issue "objectively" because Congress also has to hear a number of other pending bills.

Philippine law requires radio and television networks to have a franchise, which is granted through legislation by Congress, to be able to operate.

The franchise granted to the Catholic bishops was last renewed in 1992.

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