Rappler ordered to cease operations


Closing its doors: (Left) An employee of online portal Rappler working inside the office in Pasig City, suburban Manila, as Ressa (top) decries the directive. — AFP

A news site co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa has been ordered to shut down, the company said, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte – its arch-nemesis – leaves office.

Ressa has been a vocal critic of Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, triggering what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, probes and online attacks against her and Rappler.

The latest blow was delivered by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission.

In a statement yesterday, it confirmed the “revocation of the certificates of incorporation” of Rappler for violating “constitutional and statutory restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media”.

Rappler said the decision “effectively confirmed the shutdown” of the company and vowed to appeal, describing the proceedings as “highly irregular”.

“We have discussed all possible scenarios with Rapplers (staff) since SEC issued its first order in 2018,” Glenda Gloria, executive editor and co-founder of the site, told reporters.

“Nothing ever sufficiently prepares an organisation for a ‘kill’ order.”

Rappler has had to fight for survival as Duterte’s government accused it of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership in securing funding, as well as tax evasion.

It has also been accused of cyber libel – a new criminal law introduced in 2012, the same year Rappler was founded.

Duterte has attacked the website by name, calling it a “fake news outlet”, over a story about one of his closest aides.

Ressa, who is also a US citizen, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression”.

Ressa is fighting at least seven court cases, including an appeal against a conviction in a cyber libel case, for which she is on bail and faces up to six years in prison.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the Philippines’ former dictator who presided over widespread human rights abuses and corruption, succeeds Duterte today.

Activists fear Marcos Jr’s presidency could worsen human rights and freedom of speech in the country.

Ressa announced in a speech in Hawaii on Tuesday that the government is affirming a previous order to shut down Rappler.

The Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission affirmed its earlier decision to revoke the certificates of incorporation of Rappler, Ressa said while speaking at the East-West Centre in Honolulu.

“Part of the reason I didn’t have much sleep last night is because we essentially got a shutdown order,” Ressa told the audience.

Last year, Ressa became the first ever Filipino and first working journalist in more than 80 years to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

She was a featured speaker at this week’s East-West Center’s International Media Conference.

“We are entitled to appeal this decision and will do so, especially since the proceedings were highly irregular,” the statement by Rappler said. — Agencies

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