INDEPENDENT Philippine media outlet Rappler may yet be saved from closure after philanthropic organisation the Omidyar Network donated all its investments to local company managers.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Omidyar Network announced it would be giving all of its Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), reportedly worth some $1.5 million, to Rappler’s 14 managers in an effort to settle issues around the company’s ownership. PDRs allow foreigners to invest in Philippine companies without technically owning a stake in the company.
Last month, Rappler’s licence to operate was revoked by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for supposedly violating conditions on foreign ownership and management of local media – primarily because of the involvement of the Omidyar Network.
Given the donation of the PDRs, “we therefore strongly believe that the companies should be allowed to continue operating unhindered in the Philippines,” said a statement from the organisation.
This sentiment was echoed by Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa, who said: “this generous act proves that Rappler is, as it has always been, Filipino-owned and -controlled.”
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.
Under the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution, “ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens.”
The SEC had called Rappler’s conduct a “blatant attempt to circumvent the fundamental law of the land.”
The philanthropic investment organisation founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has invested around $1.3 billion in for-profit and non-profit organisations around the world since it was founded in 2004, including Rappler and the Wikimedia Foundation.
“This action also reaffirms our intention that Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holding Corporation should continue to operate as fully independent, Filipino-owned and run companies,” said the organisation’s statement on Wednesday.
“Omidyar Network never had any control or influence over their management, operations, or editorial policy,” it added.
President Rodrigo Duterte has long openly criticised Rappler, whose reporting has investigated the deadly drugs war and other controversial aspects of the President’s policies. Last week, he claimed that the media organisation could be linked to spies from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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 their ownership.
Rappler has called the decision by his administration to revoke their licence to operate “pure and simple harassment” and the “first of its kind in history”.
“Independent and investigative journalists, such as the highly committed team at Rappler Inc., should not have to put their jobs, freedom and safety at risk to provide impartial news coverage,” added the Omidyar Network’s statement on Wednesday.
“We must support and protect these courageous journalists around the world, otherwise the press will lose objectivity, trust, and the ability to hold those in power to account.”