THE Philippine government has revoked the registration of digital news organisation Rappler over allegations it has breached mass media and foreign-ownership laws.
The media company released a statement on Monday in which it called the administration of Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to revoke Rappler’s licence to operate “pure and simple harassment” and the “first of its kind in history”.
The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges that Rappler has violated the country’s Constitution which restricts foreign ownership and management of local news media, as well as Anti-Dummy legislation, because it had received funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic investment firm, the Omidyar Network.
According to the SEC’s ruling, Rappler had “colluded” in a “deceptive” and “elaborate scheme” with the Omidyar Network to provide it a degree of control over the company since being incorporated in 2011. It called the alleged offence a “blatant attempt to circumvent the fundamental law of the land.”
“Anything less than one hundred percent (100%) Filipino control, as stockholder or through any other means, is a violation,” said the SEC, concluding “Omidyar Network has more than 0% control of a Filipino mass media entity.”
Rappler said on Monday that: “What this means for you, and for us, is that the Commission is ordering us to close shop, to cease telling you stories, to stop speaking truth to power, and to let go of everything that we have built – and created – with you since 2012.”
During his second State of the Nation address last July, Duterte erroneously claimed that Rappler was “fully owned by Americans” and first threatened to investigate the organisation’s ownership.
His supporters have long attacked the media organisation online.
The president has routinely threatened journalists and media organisations, noting shortly after his election in June 2016 that “just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.”
“Now the Commission is accusing us of violating the Constitution, a serious charge considering how, as a company imbued with public interest, we have consistently been transparent and above-board in our practices,” said Rappler’s official statement, which asserted it would fight the decision in the courts.
“We intend to not only contest this through all legal processes available to us, but also to fight for our freedom to do journalism and for your right to be heard through an independent platform like Rappler.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement on Monday that “it was but one of many threats Duterte has made against media critical of him and his governance, such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcast network ABS-CBN, whose franchise renewal he threatened to block.”
“The NUJP declares it[s] full support to Rappler and all other independent media outfits that the state has threatened and may threaten to shut down. We call on all Filipino journalists to unite and resist every and all attempts to silence us.”
Carlos H. Conde of Human Rights Watch said that the Philippines government was in fact pushing for greater foreign ownership in media, and so the move was aimed at curbing Rappler’s journalism. “Only tyrants do this,” he said, adding it was a “serious assault on press freedom in the Philippines.”
Netizens also reacted strongly to the news, with one calling it “clear attack” on freedom of the press.
The revocation of Rappler's registration is pure harassment and a clear attack on press freedom. It is also Marcosian. It's a move straight out of the dictator's playbook. I urge the public and all media practitioners to defend press freedom & the right to speak truth to power.
— risa hontiveros (@risahontiveros) January 15, 2018
— Leloy Claudio (@leloyclaudio) January 15, 2018
Having worked at @rapplerdotcom for more than 4 years, I’ve seen how this company has stood for the truth. I never saw one tinge of corruption. None of my stories were censored due to corporate interests. I #StandWithRAPPLER We need to defend press freedom.
— David Bryan Lozada (@iamdavidlozada) January 15, 2018
Lots of love for Rappler online right now, and rightly so.
— Manuel L. Quezon III (@mlq3) January 15, 2018
A timeline of press freedom during Martial Law from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. The revocation of Rappler's registration is reminiscent of how Marcos silenced dissenters not long ago. Read more at: https://t.co/IGsnMaVobl pic.twitter.com/kiL2kxYmHU
— Millennial of Manila (@MillennialOfMNL) January 15, 2018
While it is a democracy, the Philippines’ media is classified by Freedom House as only “partly free”.
The democracy watchdog states that since 2016, Duterte’s “hostile rhetoric against the media inflamed an already dangerous environment for journalists and raised concerns about his government’s commitment to upholding press freedom.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said last year that 177 Filipino media workers had been killed since 1986.