Int’l journos slam SEC ruling vs Rappler; asks UN, Asean to make a stand
An international group of journalists has called on the United Nations (UN), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to make a stand against the Philippine government’s decision to revoke the license of online news site, Rappler, as it is a “flagrant violation of media freedom.”
On Friday, French-based organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders or RSF) condemned the ruling of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoking Rappler’s articles of incorporation “on trumped-up legal grounds.”
“The decision to close Rappler is fraught with danger, hence the urgency of referring it to these international bodies,” RSF deputy director-general Antoine Bernard said in a statement.
“We are very concerned about the safety of its journalists and the protection of their sources, especially as Rappler is well known for the quality of its investigative reporting,” Bernard added.
In an order dated January 11, the SEC alleged that Rappler violated the restriction on foreign ownership of local media, the anti-dummy law, the corporation code, and the Securities Regulation Code.
The body pointed out that Rappler’s Philippine depositary receipts (PDR) issued to one of its foreign investors, Omidyar Network, requires the news company to seek the investor’s approval on corporate matters.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has denied the allegations, saying the order to shut down the news outfit was a political pressure over their stories critical of the government.
The order drew wide criticism from media groups, saying the move was an attack to press freedom. Centerlaw, the former law firm of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, said that the SEC decision was unconstitutional for denying Rappler due process as it was a form of prior restraint.
Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said that the Duterte administration’s “troll army” has been spreading the rumor online that Rappler is foreign-owned.
“The president is clearly trying to exploit nationalist sentiment in order to silence a media outlet that annoys his clique. But the legal grounds offered for this decision are contradicted by the hard facts,” Bastard said.
RSF maintained that Rappler is 100 percent Filipino-owned, based on its media ownership monitoring study conducted in partnership with VERA Files.
“Rappler Holding Corp. is an example of financial transparency. It has received some foreign investment, including from Omidyar Network and North Base Media, but this has been in the form of PDR that do not imply any form of ownership,” the statement read.
“RSF supports Rappler’s decision to appeal against this iniquitous decision, one based entirely on false information,” it added.
The SEC order, apparently, was only the first of the series of moves against Rappler. In a subpoena released on Thursday, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) summoned Ressa and former Rappler reporter, Reynaldo Santos Jr., to answer a complaint for cybercrime.
The subpoena stemmed from a cybercrime complaint filed by Chinese-Filipino businessman Wilfredo Keng, one of the subjects of an investigative report by Rappler in 2012.
The Rappler report indicated that Keng’s sports utility vehicle was used by the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The NBI required Ressa and Santos to appear at their headquarters in Manila and submit their testimonies on January 22. /kga
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.