In this Jan. 15, 2018 photo, Rappler chief Maria Ressa addresses the members of the press over the issue on Securities and Exchange Commission's order.
Screenshot from Rappler press briefing
Philippine business journalists condemn order shutting down Rappler
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - January 16, 2018 - 11:23am

MANILA, Philippines — An organization of business journalists in the Philippines on Tuesday joined those that condemned the government’s kill order revoking the license to operate of online news site Rappler Inc., which has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

In an en banc decision, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that Rappler and its parent Rappler Holdings Corp. were “liable for violating the constitutional and statutory foreign equity restrictions in mass media.”

READ: SEC revokes news site Rappler's registration

The decision by the country’s corporate regulator has triggered protests from industry groups who called the move an attack on press freedom.

In a statement, members of the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines threw their support behind Rappler, and said the SEC’s ruling is “a small step to a bigger, darker agenda.”

“January 15 will be remembered in Philippine press history in infamy,” EJAP said, referring to the date when the SEC’s order was made public.

“It is the day that a government built on democratic principles struck a blow on one of the pillars of Asia's most vibrant democracy: A free press,” they added.

“EJAP, stands squarely behind Rappler in this fight. Every freedom-loving Filipino should stand up and be counted. We cannot let this pass.”

Duterte claimed in his second State of the Nation Address last June that Rappler is “fully owned by Americans,” an accusation that Rappler has repeatedly denied.

The Foreign Equity Restriction in Article XVI, Section 11(1) of the Constitution provides that “the ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines.”

The SEC conducted an “internal, inter-departmental investigation” as early as December 2016 after the Office of the Solicitor General requested for a probe “for any possible contravention of the strict requirements of the 1987 Constitution.”

The investigation zeroed in on Rappler’s sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts—a security which grants the holder the right to the delivery of sale of the underlying share—to foreign entities Omidyar Network Fund LLC. and NBN Rappler LP.

The SEC said it found that Rappler committed a “deceptive scheme to circumvent the Constitution” and declared void the PDRs issued to Omidyar for being a “fraudulent” transaction.

In a note to its readers, Rappler vowed to take the battle to court and maintained that "we have consistently been transparent and above-board in our practices."

Separately, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines also backed Rappler and said the SEC’s ruling “sends a chilling effect to media organizations in the country.”

“Journalists must be able to work independently in an environment free from intimidation and harassment,” members of the FOCAP said.

“An assault against journalists is an assault against democracy,” they added.

For its part, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the SEC’s decision can only be interpreted as “the Duterte regime’s punishment for a news organization doing the fundamental journalistic responsibility.”

“What is at stake is the loss of truth telling, of press freedom and democracy itself,” the CMFR said.

“In an environment deluged by a tidal wave of disinformation, so much of which is supported and sanctioned by and transmitted through government communication systems, the suppression of critical media will insure that Filipinos become cowed, ignorant and fearful, unable to question, debate or argue, consenting to the will of those in power,” it added.

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