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Will Rappler suffer the same fate as ABS-CBN?

The SEC said Rappler’s parent company “intentionally created an elaborate scheme” to hide an investment from a foreign source and that the organization is a “mass media entity that sold control to foreigners”

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mara Ressa announced that the Philippine government’s news organization Rappler is being ordered to shut down.

During the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Honolulu, Ressa said the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (PSEC) seeks to revoke Rappler’s operating license, a decision her team will appeal “especially since the proceedings were highly irregular.”

“What does this mean? We have existing legal remedies all the way up to the highest court of the land. It is business as usual for us since in our view, this is not immediately executory without court approval,” Ressa wrote to her staff.

Rappler has been plagued with legal battles for its critical reporting on the Duterte government. In 2018, the SEC revoked Rappler’s registration over an alleged violation of foreign ownership rules.

The SEC said Rappler’s parent company “intentionally created an elaborate scheme” to hide an investment from a foreign source and that the organization is a “mass media entity that sold control to foreigners.”

According to the Constitution, media companies in the country are blocked from foreign ownership. The allegation stems from the Omidyar Network, an investment vehicle created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar. Rappler has denied all accusations, reasoning that the Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) did not give the network any control over the company.

The SEC earlier “affirmed and reiterated its earlier finding” from 2018 that Rappler is a “mass media entity” that granted control to a foreign entity “through the Philippine Depositary Receipt issued to Omidyar Network.”

“Rappler and RHC willfully violated the constitution … when they granted Omidyar control,” the SEC order said. “Considering the seriousness and gravity of the infraction, and that it was no less the constitution that was violated, this commission finds and so holds that the penalty of revocation … should be affirmed and sustained.”

Ressa said Rappler won’t back down and will continue fighting.

“This is intimidation. These are political tactics. We refuse to succumb to them,” she said. “We’re not going to voluntarily give up our rights. And we really shouldn’t. I continue to appeal for that because when you give up your rights, you’re never going to get them back.” Ressa said in a news conference.

The SEC ruling came just before Duterte left office on June 30 which also reminded netizens of what media giant ABS-CBN is going through for the last two years.

The public called on the new Marcos administration to stop the attacks on press freedom.

Rappler received international support after Ressa’s announcement. Former US First Lady Hillary Clinton gave her two cents.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also urged the Philippine government to reverse its decision.

“Philippine authorities must reverse their order to close Rappler and to block access to independent news websites Bulatalat and Pinoy Weekly, and cease fabricating spurious reasons to suppress the free press,” CPJ senior Southeast Asi representative Shawn Crispin said in a statement.

“We strongly urge President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to reverse the outgoing Duterte government’s abysmal press freedom record,” he added.

The International Press Institute (IPI) called the decision another attack on press freedom.

“The Philippines’ decision to shut down Rappler is a flagrant attempt to silence a critical media outlet and a serious violation of press freedom, which has rapidly eroded under the Duterte administration,” IPI deputy director Scott Griffen said.

Written by Charles Teves

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