Philippines orders news site Rappler to shut down, says founder Maria Ressa

  • Maria Ressa, the Filipino American journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (PSEC) had revoked news site Rappler’s operating license in a statement on Tuesday.
  • The PSEC will uphold its January 2018 ruling of revoking Rappler’s registration for allegedly violating foreign ownership rules, which Rappler has previously denied.
  • Ressa will reportedly appeal the decision because “the proceedings were highly irregular.”
  • The PSEC’s order came a day before Duterte leaves office and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the ousted dictator, is scheduled to be inaugurated as president on June 30.
  • Ressa told Axios that the timing of the order is “not a good sign.”

The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (PSEC) has ordered the shutdown of news site Rappler, according to CEO and founder Maria Ressa.

Ressa, the Filipino American journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the PSEC had revoked Rappler’s operating license in a statement during the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Honolulu on Tuesday.

The PSEC will uphold its January 2018 ruling of revoking Rappler’s registration for allegedly violating foreign ownership rules. Rappler, which is well known for its work in countering disinformation, has continued to operate despite the order.

An investment by the Omidyar Network, which was created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, violated the restrictions on foreign ownership of domestic media, according to PSEC. The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign ownership of mass media companies. 

However, Rappler has previously denied foreign ownership. They argued that Omidyar’s investment was not the same as owning shares, and it did not give Omidyar Network control over Rappler. 

Ressa has appealed multiple times before the Court of Appeals but has lost every time. She will reportedly continue to appeal the decision because “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,” Ressa reportedly wrote in an internal statement to her staff. “It is business as usual for us since in our view, this is not immediately executory without court approval.” 

Francis Lim, a lawyer representing Rappler, said the PSEC cannot execute the decision without court approval. He plans to file a motion to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration and to take the case to the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the case was a “government vendetta” against Ressa and Rappler.

“The bottom line is this is an effort to shut up Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa, and shut down Rappler, by hook or by crook,” Robertson told The New York Times.

“This is intimidation. These are political tactics. We refuse to succumb to them,” Ressa said in a news conference on Wednesday. “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, a vocal critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, has faced legal threats due to Rappler’s critical reports on Duterte’s war on drugs. The government has filed seven criminal cases against her relating to tax evasion, cyber libel and violation of foreign ownership rules.

On Monday, President Duterte admitted to using his “presidential powers” in 2020 to shut down former broadcast giant ABS-CBN. Critics believe that Duterte targeted media outlets that closely documented his drug war and have been critical of his leadership.  

The PSEC’s order came a day before Duterte leaves office and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the ousted dictator, is scheduled to be inaugurated as president on June 30. Ressa told Axios that the timing of the order is “not a good sign.” 

“Who knows what the new administration will do,” Ressa said. “If the rule of law wins, these cases [against me and Rappler] will be thrown out. I look forward to a new administration and their upgrading of the rule of law.”

Featured Image via GETTY IMAGES

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