Philippines seeks scrapping of ‘abusive’ broadcaster’s franchise

The Philippine government’s move slammed by opposition lawmakers and activists as an attack designed to intimidate independent media. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 February 2020

Philippines seeks scrapping of ‘abusive’ broadcaster’s franchise

  • The government said the 66-year-old entertainment and media conglomerate violated ownership laws
  • Solicitor-General Jose Calida: ABS-CBN had for too long shown greed and abuse of what was a privileged franchise

MANILA: The Philippine government on Monday urged the Supreme Court to cancel the franchises of the country’s top broadcaster, ABS-CBN Corp, a move slammed by opposition lawmakers and activists as an attack designed to intimidate independent media.
The government said the 66-year-old entertainment and media conglomerate, which drew the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte during his 2016 election campaign, had violated ownership laws and was involved in “highly abusive practices.”
Duterte’s opponents said the complaint was timed to deny Congress the chance to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN, which employs nearly 7,000 people and engages hundreds of celebrities in radio, television and online content.
Solicitor-General and staunch Duterte loyalist Jose Calida said ABS-CBN had for too long shown greed and abuse of what was a privileged franchise.
“We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefiting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers,” Calida said in a statement.
ABS-CBN denied that and said the complaint appeared to be “an effort to shut down ABS-CBN to the serious prejudice of millions of Filipinos.”
Duterte’s has threatened for three years to torpedo the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, which Duterte accuses of refusing to air his campaign commercials.
ABS-CBN has not directly responded to Duterte’s claims, but its chairman, Eugenio Lopez said at the company stockholders’ meeting in 2017 that it was “part and parcel of our work being a media institution.”
Lopez also said the company deals with these problems privately.
The move comes at a time of concerns among some investors about regulatory unpredictability following a Duterte-ordered review of government contracts, which included big losses for two water firms whose billionaire owners Duterte has criticized.
ABS-CBN has lost 65 percent of its share value since Duterte assumed office in June 2016. It fell as much as 2.9 percent on Monday.
In 2018, the government revoked the license of Rappler, a news website known for its tough scrutiny of Duterte, who called it a “fake news outlet” sponsored by American spies. Rappler still operates pending appeal.
Calida said ABS-CBN started a pay-per-view channel without approval and charges fees not supposed to be levied. He said that like Rappler, ABS-CBN had breached foreign ownership restrictions behind an “elaborately crafted corporate veil.”
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines said the Supreme Court and Congress had the chance to prove they were independent and not beholden to Duterte.
“We must not allow the vindictiveness of one man, no matter how powerful, to run roughshod over the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press and of expression, and the people’s right to know,” it said.
Congressman Edcel Lagman said the complaint was “maliciously timed” while representative Rufus Rodriguez called it an encroachment on Congress’s turf.
Presidential spokesman Savlador Panelo said Duterte personally had nothing to do with the complaint, and in criticizing ABS-CBN, he was exercising his right to free speech.

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

Updated 20 February 2020

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

  • Former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke charged with accepting bribes, among others
  • Al-Khelaifi charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The Qatari football and television executive, however, no longer faces an accusation of bribery. Following a three-year investigation, FIFA reached an “amicable agreement” with Al-Khelaifi last month, prosecutors said, to drop its criminal complaint relating to the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports.

Al-Khelaifi is the head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee.

Al-Khelaifi was indicted for his alleged part in providing Valcke — who had influence over the awarding of World Cup rights until being removed from office in 2015 — with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at up to €1.8 million ($1.94 million).

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement … and falsification of documents.”

For the first time in the five-year investigation of FIFA business, Swiss prosecutors revealed that they believe Valcke received kickbacks totaling €1.25 million to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece.

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery over those payments and also for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Al-Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European football clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is also an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League to favor elite clubs such as French champion PSG.

He denied wrongdoing after being questioned in 2017 and 2019 in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago.

Al-Khelaifi has also been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.