Duterte orders closure of website that reported drug crackdown

Michele Moreno
January 17, 2018

It has published a series of investigations critical of what its chief executive Maria Ressa said was the administration's "weaponising" of the internet and creation of "an ecosystem used to cripple journalists".

Aside from Rappler, the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer and the broadcast network ABS-CBN had also earned the ire of the irascible Duterte, who claimed bias in their coverage and corruption of their owners.

"We will continue bringing you the news, holding the powerful to account for their actions and decisions, calling attention to government lapses that further disempower the disadvantaged".

"The SEC's kill order revoking Rappler's license to operate is the first of its kind in history - both for the (SEC) and for Philippine media", the statement reads.

"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", Roque told a regular news briefing dominated by questions about Rappler.

Rappler said it would fight the ruling in the courts and continue to operate.

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".

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said the allegations of foreign ownership "masked a vendetta" against Rappler and the decision to revoke Rappler's license "suggests a sinister use of state regulatory processes to stifle critical media voices". The company is accused of using subterfuge to accept funding from Omidyar Network, a U.S. group created by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.

The Omidyar Network "invests in entrepreneurs who share our commitment to advancing social good", an introductory page on its website says.

However, he alleged, the news site had committed a constitutional violation by issuing "Philippine depository receipts (PDR)", or investment instruments, which effectively made it partly owned by foreigners. It says the arrangement was accepted by the SEC in 2015. Duterte himself singled out the publication in his State of the Nation address last July, claiming it is fully American owned.

Rappler said it was warned as early as December that a ruling against it was going to be made, but said it had been confident that the SEC would eventually rule in its favor.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) welcomed the decision, according to CNN Philippines. "He was not even aware there was this decision coming up". The SEC said: "The document is a private one, not subscribed before a notary or a Philippine Consulate".

But Rappler's existence remains challenged by outstanding issues about its foreign investments that the SEC decision has raised.

Rappler called this ruling a blow to press freedom as it "is an attack on our lifeblood", putting at stake a business model that ensures free and fearless journalism. Also previous year, the Prieto family, owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, announced the sale of the leading newspaper to tycoon Ramon Ang after Duterte threatened to target other businesses of the owners.

"There are other avenues, such as starting a new media company". A statement from the Gabriela bloc of lawmakers said the decision "constitutes one of the gravest attacks to press freedom in the post-1986 EDSA uprising period" and is a "chilling reminder" of the media crackdown during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship.

From Vietnam to Indonesia, press freedom in Southeast Asia is deteriorating, spurred by the rise of authoritarian governments and enabled by the Trump administration's relative indifference to human rights issues. "She will never do that", he said. "Rappler remains 100 per cent Filipino-owned".

While it is a democracy, the Philippines' media is classified by Freedom House as only "partly free".

Other reports by Insurance News

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