Bangkok, January 16, 2018–The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission’s order yesterday to revoke the registration of news website Rappler represents a clear and immediate danger to press freedom in the Philippines, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission said Rappler violated Philippine constitutional restrictions on mass media ownership, which require that media properties be locally owned and operated, by receiving funding from Omidyar Network, a U.S.-based philanthropic investment firm, news reports said.
Rappler denies that the funds confer ownership or control, and maintains the company is 100% Filipino-owned, the reports said.
Solicitor General Jose Calida today commended the SEC’s decision and said that his office would determine if Rappler could be held criminally liable under the Anti-Dummy Law, which bars foreign management or control in nationalized sectors including media. Violations under the law carry possible 15-year prison terms, reports said.
Rappler, which has received backlash for its critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte, said it would continue to operate while fighting the order in court, according to news reports.
“We call on authorities to reverse the politicized decision to revoke Rappler’s operating license and to desist from all legal threats and harassment against its journalists and executives,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “This effort to close one of the country’s most respected independent news publications represents a grave affront to Philippine press freedom.”
The site’s chief executive and editor, Maria Ressa, indicated her intent to appeal the SEC’s decision, which she told reporters was handed down “without due process.”
Rappler has 15 days to appeal the decision at the Court of Appeals, according to news reports citing SEC spokesperson Armand Pan. The spokesperson also said that Rappler may continue to operate while pursuing legal remedies and that the decision to revoke is “not yet final or executory,” according to news reports.
The Department of Justice’s solicitor general initially ordered the investigation in December 2016, and the SEC then created a “special panel” to pursue the case beginning on July 8, 2017, the reports said.
The SEC’s decision was handed down on January 11 and published yesterday on its website, according to reports.
Duterte said today that the SEC’s decision was not political, according to news reports. “We never had the hand and I don’t give a shit if you continue or not continue with your network,” reports quoted him saying in reference to Rappler.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said today that Duterte was displeased with “unfair” accusations that the SEC ruling was part of a government move to undermine journalists’ rights and press freedom, the reports said.
Rappler faced heavy government harassment, including over its critical coverage of Duterte’s lethal drug war, before the SEC’s revocation order, according to news reports. Duterte threatened to investigate Rappler’s ownership during his State of the Nation Address to Congress last July 25, the reports said.
Rappler journalists have also faced heavy online harassment, including over social media, by pro-government supporters who have criticized their coverage of the drug war and other topics as biased against Duterte, Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza, a Rappler editor, told CPJ.