CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 February 2018

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Bid to shut down Rappler sparks outrage

MANILA (UCAN): The move by the Philippines’ Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) on January 15 to revoke the license of online news agency, Rappler, has sparked suspicion and outrage among media and human rights groups in the country.
 
The agency has been highly critical of the government of president, Rodrigo Duterte, especially the deadly war on drugs.
 
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines expressed outrage and called on Filipino journalists “to unite and resist every and all attempts to silence us.”
 
The group pointed out that the move against Rappler was one of many threats Duterte has made against media organisations critical of his policies. 
 
The online news site has been a target of Duterte’s ire over its reporting especially on the government’s war on drugs, which has reportedly killed up to 13,000 people.
 
The SEC alleges that Rappler violated the Philippine Constitution’ foreign ownership rules because it received funds from the Omidyar Network of eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar. 
 
Rappler has rejected the allegations, saying its foreign investors are not the owners. “They invest, but don’t own. Rappler remains 100 per cent Filipino-owned,” the agency said in a statement.
 
Rappler said it would continue to operate while it takes the closure bid to the courts.
 
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines expressed deep concern over the move, describing it as “tantamount to killing the online news site” and an “assault against democracy.”
 
The Photojournalists’ Centre of the Philippines said it was “alarmed at the decision,” and “strongly condemns any form of intimidation and harassment of media practitioners.”
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong said it was appalled by the decision, which “marks a dark day for press freedom and democracy in the Philippines.” 
 
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, said the revocation of Rappler’s license “is clearly a move to constrict press freedom. It also attests to the reality that this regime is gradually moving towards a dictatorship.” 
 
However, presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, begged to differ saying, “The issue at hand is the compliance of 100 per cent Filipino ownership and management of mass media. It is not about infringement on the freedom of the press.”
 
The spokesperson said, “We respect the SEC decision that Rappler contravenes the strict requirements of the law that the ownership and the management of mass media entities must be wholly-owned by Filipinos.” 
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand said it is “deeply concerned” by a decision that “will have profound and negative consequences for media freedom in the Philippines.”
 
James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia and the Pacific director called the SEC decision “an alarming attempt to silence independent journalism,” while Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the move would result in self-censorship by the media fearful of government reprisals for critical reporting.
 
“The Philippine government should focus on ending and investigating violations, mostly against poor communities, in the ‘war on drugs,’ not trying to silence the messenger,” Kine added.
 
Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona of Caceres, said the move “smacks of a reign of terror, an arrogant and high-handed warning to media practitioners that do not kowtow to the (Duterte) administration.”

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