Bangkok, June 29, 2022 – Philippine authorities should immediately reverse their order to shut down the independent Rappler news organization and lift their blockages of the local Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly’s news websites, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
“Philippine authorities must reverse their order to close Rappler and to block access to independent news websites Bulatalat and Pinoy Weekly, and cease fabricating spurious reasons to suppress the free press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We strongly urge President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to reverse the outgoing Duterte government’s abysmal press freedom record.”
Rappler founder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa released a statement on Tuesday while attending a conference in Hawaii saying that the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission had upheld an earlier ruling revoking the news outlet’s operating license for violating foreign ownership rules, according to news reports.
Ressa was quoted in the reports saying Rappler would appeal the ruling, that the news outlet is “not shutting down,” and that legal proceedings in the case to date have been “highly irregular.” Ressa, the 2018 recipient of CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment on the closure order.
Separately, the Philippine National Telecommunications Commission on June 8 ordered access to the independent news websites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly blocked on accusations they publish “misinformation” and support local terrorist organizations, according to news reports. The NTC ordered internet service providers to impose the blocks on June 18, according to a statement by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a local press freedom advocacy group.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. was quoted in a state media report as saying he ordered the blocks because the news websites’ reporting had violated the Anti-Terrorism Act, including by inciting and recruiting to commit terrorism.
Rhea Padilla, national coordinator of the Altermidya network of independent media groups–of which both Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly are members–told CPJ by email that the accusations are false and that authorities have failed to provide “any evidence at all” to justify the blockages.
The Philippine Securities Exchange Commission, National Security Council, and National Telecommunications Commission did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comments on the closure and blockage orders.
Rappler has consistently denied that its use of Philippine Depositary Receipts, an investment instrument that may be issued with corresponding company shares and held by both Filipinos and foreigners, violates a constitutional ban on foreign investment in media and that their use was accepted by the SEC in 2015, according to a CNN report.
The news reports noted that the SEC’s ruling against Rappler comes just days before Duterte will step down after six years in power and President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is inaugurated.
In a public letter, CPJ recently called on Marcos to reverse his predecessor’s various press freedom-eroding actions and policies, including against Rappler and Altermidya network members.