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Authorities prevent aerial coverage by television news network of rally against president

(CMFR/IFEX) - The governmental Air Transport Office (ATO) prevented aerial news coverage by a local television news network of one of the largest protest rallies against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on 29 February 2008. ATO declared the air space above Makati City, where the rally was held, a "no fly zone".

The news helicopter of ABS-CBN, one of the largest news conglomerates in the country, could not take off as a result, thus preventing reporting and filming from the air that could have given the public an idea of how large the rally was.

The ATO directive was issued upon the request of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on 27 February. The PNP website said that the ATO directive was "another precautionary measure" to ensure the safety of those attending the rally. But ATO Executive Director Daniel Dimagiba was quoted as saying that the directive was aimed at stopping speculations that protestors were under surveillance by government forces during the event.

According to ABS-CBN newsgathering head Charie Villa, the network received a copy of the directive just hours before the protest rally was about to begin.

The ban lasted from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (local time), the approximate duration of the rally.The PNP estimated the crowd at around 10,000 to 15,000 people, while organizers estimated attendance at 75,000.

The protest rally, which called for the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo, was one of many provoked by allegations of gross corruption in a government project to build a national broadband network, allegedly involving millions of dollars in kickbacks for high-ranking government officials. Both Mrs. Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, have been implicated by three insider witnesses.

Villa said they were fortunate that the network had set up a back-up camera at the Ayala tower, a commercial building located near the rally site. But Villa said ABS-CBN coverage was hampered nonetheless.

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