Once Again, Stand for Media Freedom
THE CENTER for Media Freedom & Responsibility deplores as an infringement on press freedom the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte barring online news site Rappler’s reporter Pia Ranada and its editor and CEO Maria Ressa from covering the Office of the President.
The message of that directive, the first by a sitting Philippine president since the Marcos dictatorship, is clear. It is that journalists can and will be prevented from doing their jobs should they, like Ms. Ranada, ask government officials the tough questions that practitioners need to raise in fulfillment of their responsibility to get at the truth and to hold the powerful to account.
The Malacañang claims that Ranada and Rappler are being banned from the Palace only in implementation of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decision to revoke Rappler’s registration papers is twice flawed.
First, Rappler still has a pending appeal on the SEC ruling before the Court of Appeals. Prior to the ban, lawyer and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in fact mentioned that appeals’ being still unsettled as the reason why Ms. Ranada could still cover Mr. Duterte. Roque’s statement was only later contradicted by the executive secretary.
But there is also the implication in the Palace justification for the ban that, should the court decide in favor of the SEC by ruling that Rappler is indeed foreign owned, every foreign media organization and its journalists in the Philippines, whether Filipino or not, can and will similarly be prevented from covering Malacanang–and perhaps the entire government.
Second, in the context of Mr. Duterte’s demonstrated antipathy to Ms. Ranada as well as Rappler itself, that directive is serving notice that only those media organizations and journalists that are less critical can cover Mr. Duterte and his Office. The directive is in that context a form of prior restraint and censorship.
CMFR calls on all citizens, media organizations, individual journalists’, and civil society groups concerned with free expression, human rights to condemn this latest attempt to silence the critical and responsible press essential to democratic discourse. Should this pass without resistance, it will likely be followed by other acts in furtherance of the Duterte regime’s march to tyranny, among whose first casualties will be free expression and the free press. Every individual and organization that value these rights should once again stand with Rappler, stand for media freedom.