Reporters Without Borders (RSF) firmly condemns yesterday’s Philippine government decision, announced by President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, to revoke the operating licence of the country’s leading news website, Rappler, and today’s justice ministry announcement that it is bringing legal proceedings against the site.
RSF regards these measures as an unacceptable attack on press freedom and supports Rappler’s decision to appeal.
The grounds given by the government for rescinding Rappler’s licence is the website’s alleged violation of a constitutional provision under which only Philippine citizens can own media outlets.
“Try pierce the identity and you will end up [with] American ownership,” President Duterte claimed, referring to Rappler, in his last state of the nation address six months ago. But this was just a rumour spread on social networks, according to Rappler, which says it can prove that it is Philippine-owned and will appeal on that basis.
“The revocation of Rappler’s licence is the latest stage in President Duterte’s open war against independent media,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Rappler is highly professional and its journalists stick to reporting the facts, facts that apparently annoy the government and its supporters, who have waged a smear campaign against the website on social networks. Instead of seeking the truth, the authorities have now clearly demonstrated their desire to kill the messenger.”
RSF supports the call issued yesterday by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which appealed to journalists “to unite and resist every and all attempts to silence us.” Responding today in his typically crude manner, President Duterte said: “I don't give a shit.”
The move against Rappler comes amid constant attacks on media outlets that criticize Duterte’s notorious “war on drugs,” in which around 4,000 people have already died, most of them the victims of extrajudicial killings.
Last March, Duterte criticized the “sons of whore journalists” at the Daily Philippines Inquirer, one of the country’s leading dailies, and at ABS-CBN, the biggest TV network.
“I'm not threatening them but someday their karma will catch up with them,” he warned.
Four months later, a businessman linked to Duterte announced his intention to buy the Inquirer while the president himself threatened to block the renewal of ABS-CBN's licence, which has to be approved by the Philippine congress.
Rappler founder and editor Maria Ressa is often the target of online harassment campaigns. In a Tagalog post in early 2017, a 22-year-old student wrote: “I want Maria to be raped until she dies. This would make me so happy.”
Information about Rappler’s ownership structure is available in the report of a survey of Philippine media ownership that RSF carried out. The Philippines is ranked 127th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
(c) 2017 Reporters Without Borders