MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3 – 12:54 p.m.) Outrage continues to grow over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s revocation of the registration of media outfit Rappler.com, a decision that will, in effect, shut it down with an international human rights watchdog calling the move a “vendetta” against a critical news site.
In her 223rd “dispatch from Crame,” detained Senator Leila de Lima condemned the SEC decision, saying it “signals State repression of the freedom.”
“The SEC decision, coupled with the present wave of authoritarian and anti-democratic actions of the Duterte regime, cannot but give the impression that it is but part of the trend of government assaults on institutions vital to our democracy,” De Lima added.
“The SEC decision is unprecedented in that it is a direct and frontal attack on a media organization. Never was a media entity stripped by government of legal protection since the Marcos dictatorship,” she said. “This fact alone should alarm each and every member of the media that the formality of their organizations’ corporate existence can now be threatened by this regime through the SEC with the Damocles’ Sword of juridical delegitimization.”
“By allowing Rappler to be silenced, we fear for the media industry in the country,” the Philippine Press Institute said.
“We believe that any attempt to suppress dissent and muzzle a critical press, which is so vital in any democratic society, endangers the public’s right to know and access to information.,” the industry group added.
ALTERMIDYA, a nationwide network of independent news outfits, called the move “deeply troubling” and a “serious danger to press freedom and freedom of expression … made amid such glaring indications of rising dictatorship as the threat of term extension with the impending Charter change, the No-Elections scenario, and the hasty approval of the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines’ chapter in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown Davao City, said the SEC decision was “proof that those critical (of) the government are under attack,” while Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. called it “political and … an assault on press freedom. There is no other way to spin it.”
The Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines, while recognizing “the regulatory power of the State over media companies in the country,” condemned “any form of intimidation and harassment of media practitioners behind the SEC decision that can serve as precedent to silence other media outfits.”
And the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said what is at stake in Rappler’s threatened closure “is the loss of truth telling, of press freedom and democracy itself.”
“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 said.
“If Duterte succeeds in silencing Rappler, it will have a profound chilling effect on Philippine media freedom, encouraging self-censorship by reporters and media outlets fearful of government reprisals for critical reporting at a time when the watchdog role of a free press is more urgently needed than ever,” Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, warned.
Kine said the SEC decision “was not wholly unexpected,” noting that, “six months ago … Duterte publicly attacked Rappler by falsely alleging it was ‘fully owned by Americans’,” and that the revocation of the outfit’s license “follows months of withering criticism and harassment of the media outlet by the Duterte government and his supporters.”
He also pointed out that “Duterte and his supporters have also targeted the news channel ABS-CBN as well as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, both known for their in-depth investigative reporting,” like Rappler, on the government’s war on drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives — some tallies estimate as many as a thousand people a month killed, both in police operations and in street shootings or vigilante-style executions — since mid-2016.
Bayan’s Reyes said citing foreign ownership to revoke Rappler’s license was “a bit of hypocritical” when “the thrust of the Duterte regime’s Charter change is to actually allow 100 percent foreign ownership of media.”
ALTERMIDYA accused the Duterte government of “a scheme to silence critical media and to instill fear among media practitioners committed to reporting the truth in behalf of transparency in the current regime, and to hold it to account.”
NUJP-Davao noted that Duterte’s intolerance of dissent and criticism had led to death threats against one of its members, broadcaster Kath Cortez, as it urged government to “recognize the essential role of the press. Press freedom is a cornerstone of our Constitution.”