Philippines accused of attacking press freedom in Rappler shutdown


The Philippines has ordered the shutdown of Rappler, a prominent digital news organization that criticized the country’s controversial president, Rodrigo Duterte. While critics denounced the move as an attack on press freedom, Duterte’s spokesman said on Tuesday that he “had nothing to do with this decision.”

The country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced on Monday that it had revoked Rappler‘s license for an apparent violation of foreign ownership of domestic media rules, citing that the news site had used “deceptive scheme to circumvent” the rules. Read the SEC decision on Rappler here.

Rappler has denied such claims, maintaining that it has always been transparent about its activities since its operation in 2012. The news site said it only has two foreign investors: Omidyar Network and North Base Media, neither of which have ownership shares or role in the company.

In a statement on Monday, Rappler called the decision the “first of its kind in history – both for the Commission and for Philippine media.”

“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,” it continued. Rappler founder and CEO, Maria Ressa, told CNN that the company plans to fight the decision.

Rappler has been critical of Rodrigo Duterte since the start of his presidency in 2016, especially his violent ‘War on Drugs.’ AFP reported that during a 2017 address to congress, Duterte vowed to expose Rappler’s “American ownership.”

On Tuesday, Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesperson told reporters that the president had no influence over the decision and the president had called him to ask why he was being held responsible.

“He did not like the fact that Rappler was saying this is a result of the president’s dislike for Rappler, of course not, he had nothing to do with this decision. He was not even aware there was this decision coming up,” said Roque.

Reactions

Journalists and rights groups have been quick to condemn the move, calling it an attack on press freedom.

Amnesty International said it was an “an alarming attempt to silence independent journalism.”

“The Philippines government should focus on ending and investigating violations, mostly against poor communities, in the ‘war on drugs’, not trying to silence the messenger,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines said it was “outraged” by the decision. “We call on all Filipino journalists to unite and resist every and all attempts to silence us,” it said in a statement.

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