Philippines: SEC Orders Shutdown Of Nobel Laureate’s Critical News Outlet

Philippines: SEC Orders Shutdown Of Nobel Laureate’s Critical News Outlet
Rappler co-founder and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa | Image source: Rappler/Britannica

Rappler, an independent news outlet in the Philippines, has been ordered to shut down on Tuesday, as per a statement issued by the organisation. Company co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa has said that the government’s company registration body –  the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – upheld its old decision to revoke Rappler’s licence.

The move comes a day before President Rodrigo Duterte’s six year tenure is scheduled to come to an end on June 30, 2022. Rappler has been one of the most critical news organisations in the Philippines. It has especially condemned Duterte’s deadly campaign against drugs and corruption in the country. 

The SEC has claimed in its latest order that Rappler is breaking the law and taking funding from foreign land to run the organisation in the country. “Considering that the object of the Donation (the Omidyar PDRs) was void for being contrary to law, the Donation itself was void under Article 1409 (1) of the Civil Code for being contrary to law and public policy,” said the top regulatory body, in its statement. Rappler has categorically denied any wrongdoing and foreign investment in the company, saying that the news organisation has no links to any foreign investors.

Soon after SEC’s ruling, Maria Ressa held a press conference and stated that the company will challenge the decision, Rappler’s journalists will continue to report, and the staff will continue to do their jobs as usual even after the government’s threat against free press. She said that Rappler will not surrender before the SEC’s decision and will take the fight to court.

“We have lawyers who will make sure that we follow the rule of law,” Ressa said in her virtual press conference. She also urged the upcoming Philippines administration to strengthen the rule of law and treat journalists as their partners and not enemies. 

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, journalists and media executives also condemned the shutdown order on Rappler, calling it a “brazen attack on free press”. The IPI tweeted, “We call on Philippine authorities to stop their campaign of harassment against Rappler and ensure this pioneering news outlet can stay open and do its job. This is a brazen attack on #pressfreedom.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has criticised the government’s move to target the news outlet, and expressed their solidarity and support for Rappler. “Throughout the six years of the Duterte administration, we have seen lawsuits and regulatory processes used as tools to muzzle the press, and these, as much as the touted infrastructure projects form part of the Duterte legacy,” said the top media body in its statement. 

The International Center for Journalists has also condemned the SEC’s ruling, and urged the Philippine government to roll back its order to shut down Rappler.

“We strongly urge the Philippine government to reverse the decision to shut down Rappler, a pioneering digital news outlet that has become one of the only sources of independent news amid a crackdown on press freedom,” said the ICFJ in its statement.

Criticising the SEC’s decision to target the free press, the ICFJ further said that attacks like this are not just about individuals or individual news outlets, but are attacks on independent voices that question those in power, and on democracy itself.

Rappler And The Duterte Government

Maria Ressa, who has been long in the crosshairs of the Duterte government for reporting against the current regime, has received more than 10 arrest warrants in the last two years. She has faced several legal cases filed by the government of Philippines, and relentless online attacks for her reports in the last six years.

Ressa, who has been a journalist for over the past 30 years, was named the TIME magazine Person of the Year in 2018, and was awarded the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists. She also worked with the CNN bureau chief for 18 years in Manila (from 1987 to 1995) and Jakarta (from 1995 to 2007).

 

Read more: Turkey Arrests 15 Kurdish Journalists, One Media Worker For Allegedly Spreading Terrorist Propaganda

 

Ressa founded Rappler in 2012 as an independent media outlet, with the help of crowdfunding. She and her organisation came into the limelight after covering a series of reports against President Duterte’s human rights violations and brutal war in the name of an anti-drugs campaign in the Philippines.

Ressa has fought off several attempts to shut down her news organisation since Duterte came to power in 2016.  In 2019, she was arrested over alleged online libel under the country’s anti-cyber crime law. She was re-arrested the same year in Manila, for allegedly violating laws, and barring foreign ownership of media.

Last year, Ressa, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, received the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to safeguard the freedom of expression in the Philippines. “Nobel Prize laureate Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines,” the Nobel Prize Committee had said in its statement.

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