National Press Club sees no repression in revoked Rappler registration

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
National Press Club sees no repression in revoked Rappler registration

The National Press Club was founded in 1952 to to "uphold the freedom of the press and the dignity of the newspaperman's profession." National Press Club website

MANILA, Philippines — The National Press Club of the Philippines said legal troubles faced by online news site Rappler do not constitute media repression since there are many other media firms "whose operations have remained free."
In a statement released Tuesday night, the press club agreed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which ruled that Rappler violated constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of media companies in the Philippines.
"[T]he SEC finding is quite clear: that Rappler Inc., has indeed violated the law when it allowed the entry of foreign investors and also allowed, specifically, Omidyar Network Fund LLC, to have control on 'corporate matters' of Rappler based on its own submissions to the SEC," press club president Paul Gutierrez said.
Rappler has contended that its funding from Omidyar Network is through Philippine Depositary Receipts which "does not give the owner voting rights in the board or a say in the management or day-to-day operations of the company."
But the SEC and the Palace have said that the PDRs give foreign shareholders control because of a provision that Rappler cannot change its corporate structure without their approval.
"As the SEC noted, Rappler breached this constitutional limit when it allowed Omidyar to exercise control over its corporate affairs as provided for in their internal agreement, in exchange for a fund infusion of $1 million," the National Press Club said.
Rappler, press organizations, rights groups and social media users have said the SEC case is move to silence criticism of the Duterte administration, a claim that the Palace has countered by saying only one SEC commissioner is a Duterte appointee. SEC Chairperson Teresita Herbosa has been on the commission since 2011.
"We never had the hand and I don’t give a s*** if you continue or not continue with your network..." President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday. He said media had "overused and abused the privilege in the guise of press freedom." 
He maintained, however, that journalists can continue to criticize the government. 
"In the broader Philippine media industry, Rappler is just one among the thousands of media entities in the country and whose operations have remained free," the National Press Club said.
"In this case, we cannot be swayed by the emotion of the moment and go along with the general sentiment that press freedom has been threatened less [sic] we be accused of inconsistency," the press club, which also called for "a more sober appreciation" of Duterte's supposed threats to declare martial law when he made them in January 2017, said. 
"[F]or some quarters, to include some of those in the media, to raise the fear of authoritarian rule on the part of President Duterte is interpreting too much from his statements. The facts established do not support such fear," the press club said last year.

In disagreement with smaller press groups

The National Press Club statement is in contrast with earlier ones released by journalists' groups like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, and Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines. 
NUJP on Monday said it fully supports Rappler "and all other independent media outfits that the state has threatened and may threaten to shut down." It also called on "all Filipino journalists to unite and resist every and all attempts to silence us."
FOCAP cautioned that the order against Rappler would have a "chilling effect" on media and said "an assault against journalists is an assault against democracy."
EJAP, which has members who cover the SEC, called the move "a small step to a bigger, darker agenda." The group said it "stands squarely behind Rappler in this fight. Every freedom-loving Filipino should stand up and be counted. We cannot let this pass."
But National Press Club president Gutierrez noted in the club statement that "to say that the fate of one media entity found to have run afoul with the law translates to media repression in the country is stretching the argument a bit too much."
He said "responsible journalism also means complying with the law." 
Gutierrez' predecessor as NPC president, Joel Sy Egco, is an undersecretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office. Benny Antiporda, who was NPC president before Egco, is a board member of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

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