Rappler case cited in 2017-2018 press freedom report

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 25 April) – The Philippine government’s attempt to close down online news outlet Rappler on the grounds that it violated laws on foreign ownership was highlighted in “The Global State of Press Freedom, 2017-2018” released by Washington-based Freedom House Tuesday.

“President Rodrigo Duterte defended the decision, which Rappler was contesting, and accused the site of attempting to undermine his administration,” the report said.

On Jan. 11, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the license of Rappler, which is known for its critical stance on the Duterte administration, for alleged violations of the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law.

The case started in December 2016, when the Office of the Solicitor General asked the SEC to investigate Rappler over its Philippine Depository Receipts, instruments that allow foreigners to invest in a Filipino company without owning any part of it.

Aside from the ownership issue, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has been sued for cyber libel by businessman Wilfredo Keng for an article published on May 29, 2012. The article said that then chief justice Renato Corona used a vehicle registered under Keng.

Keng filed the cyber libel complaint in October 2017 at the National Bureau of Investigation. The NBI dismissed the complaint on Feb. 22 on the ground that the one-year prescriptive period had lapsed.

But on March 2, the NBI recommended to the Department of Justice to pursue the cyber libel case.

Early this year, Duterte, reacting to an unfavorable report about Special Assistant to the President lawyer Bong Go, called Rappler a “fake news site.”

The president has never concealed his dislike for media outlets that he thinks have been unfair to him and his administration.

China, Cambodia

China and Cambodia are the two other Asia-Pacific countries highlighted in the report.

“Internet censorship and surveillance reached new heights in China as a Cybersecurity Law came into effect in June 2017, alongside other new regulations restricting online communications and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). Numerous bloggers and social media users were arrested or sentenced to prison for critical online comments or efforts to share information about human rights.

“Press freedom in Cambodia suffered a crippling blow in late 2017 when the government closed the Cambodia Daily—one of the country’s last and most prominent independent media outlets—and 15 local radio stations, in addition to charging two Radio Free Asia journalists with espionage,” it said.

In the US, too

The report further noted that even in countries like the United States free expression has come under threat.

“…President Donald Trump’s use of threatening rhetoric—including declarations that the media are ‘the enemy of the American people’—and his repeated disparagements of specific journalists and outlets have undermined public trust in fact-based journalism,” it said.

The report, however, cited that “journalists in democracies continue to do their work, despite the sometimes harrowing new conditions.”

“But if the free press, an essential component of democratic governance, is to survive as such, other elements of the democratic immune system must work to support it. These include opposition parties, an impartial judicial system, civil society organizations, and, most important, citizens—those who provide the revenue that keeps journalists in business and the votes that keep politicians in power,” it added. (MindaNews)