For Freedom’s Sake: Stand with Rappler


Statement of the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

NEWS MEDIA organization Rappler is challenging in the courts the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) revocation of its Certificate of Incorporation. But the SEC decision should be sounding the alarm not only among journalists but for all Filipinos who believe in democracy and in the vital role that media plays in holding government accountable.

Government threats and action against the media — specific news organizations as well as individual journalists — have raised all kinds of violations and misconduct on the part of selected targets. But each attack involves both a press freedom as well as free expression issue. A government elected by the people in a free election must tread carefully in dealing with these cases. The SEC decision came swiftly, failing to observe its own 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.

Ironically, the SEC claims that Rappler is in violation of the Constitution’s restrictions on foreign media ownership, specifically Article XVI, Section 11 which limits ownership of Philippine mass media to Filipinos. It claims that because of funds from a foreign network, Rappler violated “the Constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restrictions in Mass Media.”

The SEC was specifically referring to the Omidyar Network’s Philippine Depository Receipt (PDR). Omidyar Network is a fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

A PDR is a financial instrument through which a company invests in another, but which does not give it voting rights in the board of directors of the recipient company or a say in its day to day operations. The recipient company remains Filipino-owned and managed.

Because other companies including media organizations also issue PDRs, the SEC decision raises the question of whether it will be doing the same thing to those companies, including TV networks, ABS-CBN and GMA 7.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself is on record as threatening the cancellation of the franchise of ABS-CBN. Rappler at this point has been singled out for suppression — the SEC decision revoking Rappler’s certificate of registration means it will have to stop operations — but for months has been subjected to false allegations regarding its supposedly foreign ownership. Not only have these come from online trolls; Rappler was even specifically and falsely condemned by Mr. Duterte in his 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA) as “American-owned.”

Because of this lengthening history of Rappler’s harassment, the SEC decision can only be interpreted as the Duterte regime’s punishment for a news organization doing the fundamental journalistic responsibility of reporting the truth and holding the powerful to account.

CMFR therefore calls on every media organization regardless of its political and economic interests to explain these issues clearly and to present them in the context of business practice that has been approved by the SEC. CMFR calls urgently on every Filipino who values free expression, to stand and unite with Rappler.

What is at stake 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.