The Nobel Prize winner vows to keep her critical news site running after the Philippine government ordered it shut down for violating “foreign ownership restrictions on media.”
Philippine Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa’s Rappler news company has been ordered shut down on charges of violating rules on foreign ownership of media, but she has vowed to keep the site running.
The order from the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was published on Wednesday, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte leaves office.
Ressa has been an outspoken critic of Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, setting off what media advocates say is a grueling series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks against her and Rappler.
In a statement, the SEC reaffirmed an earlier order to shut down Rappler, saying it was canceling the news site’s “certificates of incorporation” for violating “constitutional and statutory restrictions on foreign ownership of news media.”
Rappler said the decision “effectively confirmed the closure” of the company and vowed to appeal, describing the procedure as “highly irregular”.
In an order dated June 28, our Securities and Exchange Commission affirmed its earlier decision to revoke the certificates of incorporation of Rappler Inc and Rappler Holdings Corporation. #hold the line #CourageON
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) June 29, 2022
But Ressa was characteristically defiant, promising that the news site would continue to operate while the legal process went through.
“We keep working, it’s business as usual,” Ressa told reporters, adding that “we can only hope for the best” under Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Rappler has had to fight for survival as the Duterte government accused him of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership to raise funds, as well as tax evasion.
He has also been charged with 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”, for a story about one of his closest aides.
The news portal is accused of allowing foreigners to take control of its website through the issuance of “receipts of deposit” by its parent, Rappler Holdings.
Under the constitution, media investment is reserved for Filipinos or Filipino-controlled entities.
The case stems from the 2015 investment by the US-based Omidyar Network, which was established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Omidyar later transferred his investment in Rappler to the site’s local managers to head off Duterte’s efforts to shut it down.
Ressa, who is also a US citizen, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov received 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 he is out 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 doesn’t just cost 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 former Philippines dictator who presided over widespread corruption and human rights abuses, replaces Duterte on Thursday.
Activists fear that Marcos Jr’s presidency could worsen human rights and freedom of expression in the country.