Business journalists slam ‘darker agenda’ behind SEC ruling on Rappler

Chrisee Dela Paz
Business journalists slam ‘darker agenda’ behind SEC ruling on Rappler
'Now, it is more sinister. Efforts to quiet the press are clothed in hair-splitting legalities,' says the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) questioned the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to strip Rappler of its corporate registration, slamming the regulator’s move as “a small step to a bigger, darker agenda.”

EJAP – the Philippines’ top organization of business reporters, editors, and wire agencies – reiterated in a statement on Tuesday, January 16, that Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) issued by Rappler to Omidyar Network do not constitute ownership of the media firm. (READ: Rappler still free to continue operations – SEC)

The PDRs – which were approved by the SEC itself in 2015 – are “no more than debt paper sold to foreign investors that obviously give them the right to earn on their investments in a media company, but not ownership,” said EJAP.

Back in June 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) that Rappler is “fully owned by Americans,” an allegation that the media firm has repeatedly denied. (READ: Debunking lies about Rappler)

‘More sinister’

EJAP also slammed what it described as “more sinister” efforts to silence journalists.

In decades past, the muzzling of the Philippine press was brazen and brutal. Journalists were imprisoned and media entities were shuttered – printing offices padlocked and broadcast media were cut off the air,” EJAP said.

“Now, it is more sinister. Efforts to quiet the press are clothed in hair-splitting legalities, a smoke screen on this underhanded attack on the free press conceivably to temper public outcry.”

Rappler is just one of the critical media outlets that have been criticized publicly by the President over their reporting on the government’s war on drugs.

During Duterte’s first SONA in 2016, he decried the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s famous Pietà-like front page photo of a victim of the war on drugs.

In March 2017, the President hit the supposedly “unfair news” written about him, saying that karma was sure to catch up with the “bullshit” Inquirer. In July 2017, it was announced that tycoon Ramon Ang, a friend of Duterte, was in talks with the Prieto family for a majority stake in the newspaper.

Duterte also hit the Prieto family through their real estate business. The President accused the Prietos of not paying the correct taxes for a property whose ownership is still the subject of a court battle. (READ: Duterte’s target: The Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Back in April 2017, Duterte also threatened to block the franchise renewal of listed ABS-CBN Corporation, which is set to expire in 2020. He accused the broadcast giant of accepting cash for a campaign ad that failed to air before the May 2016 polls.

‘Stand up and be counted’

Malacañang has claimed that the SEC decision to revoke Rappler’s registration is “not an attack on press freedom” but an issue of “compliance [with] 100% Filipino ownership and management of mass media.” (READ: Stand with Rappler, defend press freedom)

Other journalist groups like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) in Hong Kong have condemned the SEC decision. (READ: Journalist groups hit SEC decision vs Rappler)

For EJAP, “January 15 will be remembered in Philippine press history in infamy.”

“It is the day that a government built on democratic principles struck a blow to one of the pillars of Asia’s most vibrant democracy: A free press,” the business journalists’ group said.

“Rappler pledged to fight this affront on the free press, all the way to the Supreme Court if need be….EJAP stands squarely behind Rappler in this fight. Every freedom-loving Filipino should stand up and be counted. We cannot let this pass.” – Rappler.com