Philippine Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa pledged on Wednesday to fight an order by a corporate regulator to shut down her online news site Rappler, known for its critical reporting of President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies.
The ruling against Rappler, handed down by the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Tuesday, comes at a time when activists and journalists fear there will be no let-up in challenges to press freedom under the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, who begins his term on Thursday.
“We will continue to do our jobs. Our reporters will continue to hold the line, will continue to report, and will continue to demand that access is there,” Ressa told a media briefing, in which she described the SEC decision as “intimidation.”
The SEC on Tuesday affirmed its 2018 ruling rescinding the operating licence of Rappler for violating foreign equity restrictions on domestic media when it sold depositary rights to a foreign entity.
Rappler had argued the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic arm of EBay founder Pierre Omidyar, was a silent investor. Omidyar cut ties by donating the depository receipts to Rappler’s staff.
“We strongly disagree with the [SEC’s] decision,” Rappler lawyer Francis Lim told the media briefing, adding there were legal remedies to question the decision and that the SEC could not enforce the order pending an appeal.
Asked about the SEC’s decision, a member of the communications team of President-elect Marcos said, “No comment for now.”
Ressa out on bail in contested case
Marcos shied away from debates and interviews in the presidential campaign, with critics complaining he has been inaccessible to media and some foreign journalists reporting they were denied accreditation for campaign events.
Ressa shared the 2021 Peace Prize with Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov, a move widely seen as an endorsement of free speech rights under fire worldwide.
Ressa is currently on bail after being convicted in 2020 for cyber libel in one of several cases against the website filed by government agencies.
“This is an effort to shut up Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, and shut down Rappler, by hook or by crook,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, of the SEC order.
The Philippines ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh in the world in its 2021 impunity index, which tracks deaths of media members whose killers go free.
The government denies hounding media and says any problems organizations face are legal, not political. It says it believes in free speech.
Duterte’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.