Journalist groups hit SEC decision vs Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Several journalist groups slammed the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) decision revoking the registration of news website Rappler.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed its “outrage” and support for the news agency.

“As it does so, the NUJP declares its full support to Rappler and all other independent media outfits that the state has threatened and may threaten to shut down. We call on all Filipino journalists to unite and resist every and all attempts to silence us,” NUJP said in a statement.

The group said the ruling against Rappler is just one of many threats of President Rodrigo Duterte against critical media, citing Duterte’s statements against Inquirer and ABS-CBN.

“The SEC has apparently decided to reject Rappler's contention that its foreign investors merely placed money in the outfit but do not own it, which it issued after President Rodrigo Duerte, in his state of the nation address last year, threatened to have its ownership investigated,” NUJP said.

“It was but one of many threats Duterte has made against media critical of him and his governance, such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcast network ABS-CBN, whose franchise renewal he threatened to block,” it added.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also expressed “deep concern” with the decision, which it said is “tantamount to killing the online news site” and an “assault against democracy.”

“[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,” the group said

“An assault against journalists is an assault against democracy,” FOCAP added.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) said the SEC's "harsh" ruling has "horrifying implications on the full and untrammeled exercise of press freedom."

PCIJ said the SEC, as it had previously ruled in similar cases, could have imposed penalties or fines, or ordered Rappler to amend its papers or unload its foreign investments. 

"Regulators and the courts would do well to deal with allegations of legal infractions by the media with utmost fairness, probity, and independence so they do not undermine further the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and the people’s right to know, or worse, put the media now under duress in greater jeopardy and undue censure."

PCIJ also called the public to be vigilant in the fight for press freedom.

"We must not let our guards down. Yet even better, we must all keep watch over the next events that would unfold. Stand by Rappler. Assert and defend press freedom and the citizen’s right to know," it said.

LODI, PPI

The Philippine Press Institute, the national association of newspapers, expressed "absolute solidarity" with Rappler.

"We believe in Rappler and what it stands for. By allowing Rappler to be silenced, we fear for the media industry in the country," PPI said in a statement.

"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," it added.

Let's Organize for Democracy Integrity (LODI), a group of artists and members of the media also denounced the ruling, saying it is "an open attack on the people’s rights to free expression and to a free press."

"We view the SEC action, which by some accounts seems rushed, as the logical next step to the DDS-initiated harassments, death and rape threats, and trolling against Rappler, its editors and staff. The threats come from the President himself who, like any garden-variety tyrant, is allergic to journalists who don’t follow or, worse, question his chosen narrative," LODI said in a statement.

"We call on our colleagues in the arts and media communities to expose and thwart any threat or act from the fascist Duterte regime to scare and terrorize us from defending democracy and promoting integrity. We must jealously guard what remains of our precious freedoms," the group said.

The SEC en banc  said Rappler violated constitutional restrictions on ownership and control of mass media entities because of funds coming from Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar.

SEC voided the Omidyar Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR) and revoked Rappler's Certificate of Incorporation.

A PDR is a financial instrument that does not give the owner voting rights in the board or a say in the management or day-to-day operations of the company. Several large media companies have PDRs.

The SEC itself accepted the Omidyar-related documents submitted by Rappler in 2015.

In a statement addressed to its readers and viewers on Monday, Rappler said: "The SEC’s kill order revoking Rappler’s license to operate is the first of its kind in history – both for the Commission and for Philippine media."

"What this means for you, and for us, is that the Commission is ordering us to close shop, to cease telling you stories, to stop speaking truth to power, and to let go of everything that we have built – and created – with you since 2012." (READ Rappler's statement: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)

Rappler, however, will continue to operate as it files the necessary motions for reconsideration with the courts. It will continue to defend and uphold the freedom of the press, which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The government has long targeted Rappler. The SEC investigation was ordered by the Office of the Solicitor General, which wrote the agency on December 14, 2016, to investigate Rappler over its PDRs.

The SEC created a "Special Panel" on July 8, 2017, to conduct a "formal, in-depth examination of Rappler Inc and its parent, Rappler Holdings Corporation, as to possible violations of nationality restrictions on ownership and/or control of Mass Media entities."

A few weeks later, in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte himself threatened to investigate the ownership of Rappler. The agency has long debunked the allegation. – Rappler.com