Media, human rights groups slam SEC closure order vs. Rappler

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 16) — Several media groups lambasted the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for revoking online news agency Rappler's license to do business Tuesday.

Non-profit organization Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said the SEC decision failed to observe due process.

"The pattern suggests a policy of assaulting and weakening the press as an institution. It bodes ill for the survival of those basic freedom rights under the present regime, as of other rights such as dissent and protest that are enshrined as well in the Constitution," CMFR's Monday statement read.

CMFR added the string of harassment Rappler had gone through with the SEC can only be interpreted as "punishment" from President Rodrigo Duterte's administration for a news organization critical of the government.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) expressed "deep concern" over the SEC decision, saying it is "tantamount to killing the online news site."

"[It] 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," FOCAP's statement read.

The Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines, or EJAP, also stood in support of  Rappler.

"January 15 will be remembered in Philippine press history in infamy. It is the day that a government built on democractic principles struck a blow on one of the pillars of Asia's most vibrant democracy: A free press," EJAP's statement read.

International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) also slammed the government agency's move, calling it "a sinister use of state regulatory processes to stifle critical media voices."

"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," HRW Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kline said in a statement Monday.

Kline added that Philippine media is one of the institutions calling out Duterte's war on drugs who have been publicly criticized by the President.

Local human rights group KARAPATAN said the basis in revoking Rappler's registration was selective and ironic.

"The Duterte regime is targeting Rappler for allegedly being owned by foreigners when it is clamoring to do exactly the same with our land and resources by ridding provisions in our constitution that limit foreign ownership," said Cristina Palabay, KARAPATAN's Secretary General.

Global organization Amnesty International also called the SEC's attempt to shut down Rappler an alarming attempt to silence independent journalism, echoing Rappler CEO Maria Ressa's claims.

"This is a politically motivated decision, pure and simple, and just the latest attempt to go after anyone who dares to criticise the government. Rappler has been fearless in holding those in power to account, including by consistently criticising the government's murderous 'war on drugs'. It has faced persistent harassment by government supporters and even the President himself," the group's Monday statement read.

Ateneo University's broadsheet The Guidon urged Filipinos to support Rappler in its fight against the SEC decision.

"All media organizations-from mainstream media to the student press-must take a stand against this attack on journalism. Bowing down to intimidation will only embolden those in power. Only in solidarity can we effectively resist," the publication's Monday statement read.

The National Union of Journalists also stood in solidarity with the online news organization.

"We are sure Rappler, as it has said, is capable of mounting a legal defense against what amounts to their closure," the group said Monday.

The SEC ordered to revoke Rappler's license for "circumventing the Constitution" on its restrictions against foreign ownership. It claimed that Rappler received over $1 million from foreign investor Omidyar Network, in exchange for grant of control and financial returns.

Rappler denied that the issuance of Philippine Depository Receipts to foreign investors grants ownership rights.

READ: SEC cancels Rappler's license to do business

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier denied that Duterte had a hand in the SEC decision.

Rappler is one of the media entities the President has threatened to close down. The others include broadcast network ABS-CBN and The Philippine Daily Inquirer.