Defend Press Freedom!

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THIS AFTERNOON, online news outlet Rappler announced that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has revoked the organization’s license to operate as a news website, which was described as “the first of its kind in history–both for the Commission and for Philippine media.”

Rappler is known for its critical and hard-hitting reportage, much to the consternation of the administration and its allies.

The Commission accused Rappler of violating the constitutional laws on ownership as the organization was said to welcome funds from foreign investor Omidyar Network, founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The SEC has since voided Omidyar’s Philippine Depository Receipt (PDR), as well as Rappler’s Certificate of Incorporation.

President Rodrigo Duterte has also previously cited the issue of Rappler’s ownership in his second State of the Nation Address last July 24, as he falsely stated that the organization was “fully owned by Americans.”

Rappler Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa responded to this claim in a tweet, which reads, “President Duterte, you are wrong. @rapplerdotcom is 100% Filipino owned. Any leader should vet his information.”

The GUIDON condemns the Duterte administration’s latest act of intimidation and suppression of the country’s free press. Obviously, the decision is meant to silence critical and dissenting voices, in a brazen bid to consolidate power.

This is not the first time that Duterte or his administration has employed intimidation against critical media. Duterte previously threatened to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, as he accused the network of “swindling” when they allegedly refused to air his political campaigns in the 2016 elections.

Duterte has also criticized the Philippine Daily Inquirer for their “slanted” reports, and lashed out at the Prietos of Inquirer and the Lopezes of ABS-CBN.

Many online and social media trolls, known to spread fake news and harass critical journalists, have been found to be paid by Duterte’s team during the election campaign.

This administration has also supported dubious bloggers, who gratuitously and shamelessly spew propaganda and hate that poison public discourse.

Duterte’s commitment to a genuinely free press is at best, questionable. Congress has not passed a Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill into law, while Duterte’s limited FOI executive order has been found to be lacking. Until now, media killings and harassment continue. Justice has remained elusive for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.

Moreover, it is also telling that while Rappler faces a legal showdown over their alleged foreign ownership, Duterte, meanwhile, is giving a free hand to a Chinese firm into the Philippine telecommunications industry. Duterte has threatened the judiciary against issuing any legal obstacles to their entry. Such selective enforcement of the law undermines the clarity and coherency of government policy.

But one should not lose hope. The current situation is a perfect opportunity to test the strength of the Philippine legal system in protecting the freedoms of expression and of the press.

After all, the same Constitution cited in the SEC ruling also calls for the “the policy environment for… the emergence of communication structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation and the balanced flow of information into, out of, and across the country, in accordance with a policy that respects the freedom of speech and of the press.”

We call on the institutions involved in the case to uphold the rule of law and the much higher cause of preserving democratic institutions such as the free press.

Rappler will certainly face an uphill battle. The national government, given carte blanche by a malleable civil service, and aided by a concerted disinformation campaign, has set its sights on the total and complete destruction of its perceived enemies.

But this is not Rappler’s battle alone. All media organizationsfrom mainstream media to the student pressmust take a stand against this attack on journalism. Bowing down to intimidation will only embolden those in power. Only in solidarity can we effectively resist.

We urge all Filipinos to throw their support behind Rappler and all other legitimate news organizations that serve as the lifeblood of our democracy. Let us not take the free presswhich our forebears have fought for with their very livesfor granted.

As this administration turns more authoritarian, it is our duty to stay watch and defend our democratic way of life. The time for courage and resistance is now!

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