Bangkok, February 21, 2018 – The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Philippine government’s decision to ban the news website Rappler from covering official presidential events, and calls for an immediate end to all government harassment of the independent online publication.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque yesterday told local media the government decided to ban Rappler because President Rodrigo Duterte had “lost trust” in the publication and what he characterized as “fake news” reports, according to news reports.
Roque told local media that Rappler’s reporters would in future have to cover the leader’s speeches and activities by live television rather than in person from the presidential palace, known as Malacañang, the reports said.
“President Rodrigo Duterte must cease and desist his government’s escalating campaign of harassment of the news website Rappler,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia representative. “Banning reporters from covering any national leader is an affront to press freedom. Rappler’s access to the presidential palace should be immediately and unconditionally restored.”
Yesterday before the ban was announced, Rappler’s palace reporter, Pia Ranada, a frequent target of Duterte’s ire, was initially denied access by guards to the presidential palace but eventually was allowed to join a televised news briefing held by Roque, according to reports.
Jhopee Avancena, head of Malacañang’s internal house affairs office, told Ranada by text message that she and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa had been banned from the palace on Duterte’s orders, Rappler reported.
The ban follows last month’s Securities and Exchange Commission decision to revoke Rappler’s registration for alleged violations of constitutional provisions that bar foreigners from owning or operating local media. Rappler has denied the charges and appealed the decision, which was not executory, reports said.
News reports suggested the ban may have been motivated by a Rappler report published last month that said Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go had “intervened” in the procurement of a defense ministry navy frigate, an allegation Go has denied, including in Senate testimony, according to news reports.
Rappler said it stands by the accuracy of story, which it says was sourced in part from leaked official documents. Duterte responded angrily to the news story, claiming Rappler has been “throwing trash and shit all along” and is a “fake news outlet,” reports quoting the president said.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said after last month’s SEC ruling that his office would also investigate whether authorities could hold Rappler 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.
On January 21, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was summoned to the police-run National Bureau of Investigation over a May 2012 article authorities alleged might have violated local cybercrime laws.
Ressa said the NBI investigation, based on a complaint filed by a local businessperson, was part of a pattern to “harass and shut down Rappler” and “concerted effort to turn journalism into a crime,” the Guardian reported.