Philippines: Maria Ressa’s Rappler news site ordered shut down

Nobel prize winner pledges to keep her critical news site running after the Philippines government ordered it closed for violating ‘restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media’.

Filipino journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, one of 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners, poses for a portrait in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 9, 2021.
Filipino journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, one of 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners, poses for a portrait in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 9, 2021 [File: Eloisa Lopez/ Reuters]

Philippine Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa’s news company Rappler has been ordered shut down on charges of violating rules on foreign ownership of mass media, but she promised to keep the site running.

The order from the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was publicised on Wednesday, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte is due to leave 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.

In a statement, the SEC reaffirmed a previous order that Rappler be shutdown, saying it was cancelling the “certificates of incorporation” of the news site for violating “constitutional and statutory restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media”.

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

But Ressa was characteristically defiant, pledging that the news site would continue to operate as it followed the legal process.

“We continue to work, it is business as usual,” Ressa told reporters, adding “we can only hope for the best” under Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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 cyberlibel – 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.

The news portal is accused of allowing foreigners to take control of its website through its parent Rappler Holdings’ issuance of “depositary receipts”.

Under the constitution, investment in media is reserved for Filipinos or Filipino-controlled entities.

The case springs from the 2015 investment from the United States-based Omidyar Network, which was established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar later transferred its investment in Rappler to the site’s local managers to stave off efforts by Duterte to shut it down.

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 cyberlibel case, for which she is on bail and faces up to six years in prison.

Rappler faces about eight cases, Ressa said.

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) has urged the Philippine government to reverse its order to shut down Rappler.

“This legal harassment not only costs Rappler time, money and energy. It enables relentless and prolific online violence designed to chill independent reporting,” ICFJ said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Marcos Jr, the son of the Philippines’ former dictator who presided over widespread human rights abuses and corruption, takes over from Duterte on Thursday.

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

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies