PEOPLE WHO know only the surface of Rappler’s case would say he/she supports freedom of speech, but since the media entity allegedly violated the law, it must face the consequences. Smart and relevant people, on the other hand, would not focus on this aspect; they would analyze what messages this issue convey.
In a decision dated Jan. 11, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the registration of online news site Rappler for “violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restrictions in Mass Media enforceable through rules and laws within the mandate of the Commission.” Mass media, SEC upholds, is any medium of communication designed to reach a mass of people—print media, such as newspapers and magazines, broadcast media such as radio and television, and electronic media such as the internet. Constitutionally, mass media should be 100 percent Filipino-owned. The foreign equity restriction states that anything less than 100 percent Filipino control is a violation, and it is the same with anything more than exactly zero percent foreign control.
The SEC argued that Rappler is a “mass entity that sold control to foreigners” because it must allegedly seek the approval of one of its foreign investors when it comes to corporate matters. Rappler previously said it has two foreign investors—Omidyar Network and North Base Media—but maintained that both have no ownership and control of the news site.
Now what do we hear from the Palace and President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been very vocal of disliking Rappler, about this issue? The Palace was quick to support the SEC ruling and clarified that Duterte did not have a hand in the decision. The President himself, moreover, said the issue could not be political and that he does not care whether Rappler would continue its operations or not.
Before, Duterte singled out the online news site in his second State of the Nation Address, claiming that it is not fully owned by Filipinos.
It was the President’s first public statement against Rappler, but it was not the first time that he hit media companies. He previously called out the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Inquirer) and ABS-CBN for their alleged biases—and seemed proud of what he did.
“Kaya ako lang ang Presidente na bumibira ng Inquirer pati ABS-CBN. Binababoy ko talaga. Kasi alam nila basura e,” he said during his visit in Marawi City. He also threatened ABS-CBN that he will block the renewal of its franchise.
With facts about the SEC ruling, one may say there is a chance Duterte could really have nothing to do with Rappler’s case. The Commission appears to have a good basis for its arguments against the online news site. But until what do we know about all these? Duterte is still the highest and the most powerful government official in the country, after all. And this issue with Rappler, is this just about a media entity violating a rule? No.
What is in front of Filipinos, especially journalists, is an approaching suppression of press freedom masked in a well-written argument of constitutional violation.
As of press time, Rappler is still allowed to continue with its operations so why say press freedom is becoming the issue? Attacks on press freedom need not be explicit. The issue may cost the online news site to cease from operating.
In case some people do not know, Rappler is known for its criticisms of Duterte. And the President has said before: he will not have all these sitting down. Is the issue with the online news site still not leaning toward an attack on press freedom? I doubt. F
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