Utter Bullshit: Reporter Maria Ressa Arrested Over Bogus Charges For Her Critical Reporting

from the free-speech-has-to-matter dept

We’ve written about reporter Maria Ressa, who started the successful news site The Rappler in the Philippines. Ressa, herself, is a force of nature, who has upset a lot of people with her incredibly detailed and thorough reporting. Last year, we wrote about how the Duterte government was trying to intimidate and silence her with bogus charges, claiming that because she had accepted grant money from US foundations, she was engaged in tax evasion.

Today things ramped up quite a bit with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) (the Filipino equivalent of the FBI) coming to arrest Ressa at her offices, claiming that she violated a “cyberlibel” law. Incredibly, the article that the government claims is libelous… was written four months before the law they claim it violated actually became law.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the filing in court of cyber libel charges against Ressa and former Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr over a story published in May 2012 ? or 4 months before the law that they allegedly violated was enacted.

The case, filed by the DOJ, stemmed from a complaint by businessman Wilfredo Keng, who was identified in a Rappler article as the owner of the SUV that then-chief justice Renato Corona had used during the impeachment trial.

Keng complained not about his alleged ownership of the vehicle, but about the backgrounder on him as having alleged links to illegal drugs and human trafficking, based on intelligence reports.

When the officers came to arrest Ressa at her office, some of her colleagues tried to film the situation on their mobile phones, and the NBI agents tried to get them to stop:

In response to this Rappler has said it will not give in to the intimidation:

?We are not intimidated. No amount of legal cases, black propaganda, and lies can silence Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line. These legal acrobatics show how far the government will go to silence journalists, including the pettiness of forcing me to spend the night in jail.?

The statement further lays out why the charges are clearly bogus and trumped up:

A complaint was filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng 5 years after a story was published on May 29, 2012, or months before the cybercrime law was enacted. Our story said former chief justice Renato Corona used a vehicle registered under the name of Mr Keng, who, based on intelligence reports and previously published stories, had alleged links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. We called Mr Keng and got his side before the story was published.

The filing of the case is preposterous and baseless. No less than NBI Cybercrime Division chief Manuel Eduarte closed an investigation in February 2018 after finding no basis to proceed, given that the one-year prescriptive period had lapsed. Eight days later, however, the NBI revived the case, and filed it with the Department of Justice on the basis of a theory they call “continuous publication.”

This is a dangerous precedent that puts anyone ? not just the media ? who publishes anything online perennially in danger of being charged with libel. It can be an effective tool of harassment and intimidation to silence critical reporting on the part of the media. No one is safe.

This is why in the US (and other countries) we have what’s known as the single publication rule, in that the date of original publication is the date at which any statute of limitations clock starts ticking (mostly). Yet, it appears the Philippines is arguing for no single publication rule and that “continuous publication” means liability can last forever. Furthermore, even if this was libelous (which sounds questionable), shouldn’t libel be a civil matter between two private parties, rather than involving the criminal justice system?

And, of course, remember, that the Philippines’ Constitution has a close analogue of the 1st Amendment in the US (there it’s their Section 4):

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

That would certainly suggest that the law being used to arrest Ressa is unconstitutional. Various journalism organizations are already condemning this arrest as a clear attempt at silencing Ressa and Rappler in their critical reporting of the Duterte government:

“The Philippine government’s legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We call on Filipino authorities to immediately release Ressa, drop this spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler.”

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Comments on “Utter Bullshit: Reporter Maria Ressa Arrested Over Bogus Charges For Her Critical Reporting”

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74 Comments
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

The answer is simple

I’m sure there will be some sort of appeals process that will be followed to the letter~. An appeals process is all that is needed to address this issue~. No need for further investigations or new laws~. And if there is a need for a new law, it just needs to lay out a simple appeal process, and nothing else~.

…ugh, writing like Sanford hurts my head even if it’s all sarcasm.

Anonymous Coward says:

The single publication rule, combined with Section 230, makes people defenseless against libel that turns up in search engines, which is why anyone who relies on Google to check out other people has defective DNA and would be best sterilized. If the original publisher cannot be found within as little as a year in some states (or as many as three in others), the clock expires and they are SOL.

The United States used to criminalize libel, and given the horrendous impact it can have on people (since important people rely on search engines to make life-changing decisions regarding them), these laws should return. Someone should have recourse when an archive of a single posting on an obscure message board can ruin them, or when someone uses an offshore site to duck liability (many powerful people use these offshore-based sites to silence their critics by ruining them, and then there’s "reputation blackmail.").

A federal law criminalizing libel (which, hopefully, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will introduce) would wipe Section 230 off the map. Absent that, eliminating the single-publication rule for websites which can easily remove defamatory content is necessary in light of Section 230.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The single publication rule, combined with Section 230, makes people defenseless against libel that turns up in search engines,

If search engines were responsible for indexing defamatory pages then there wouldn’t be any search engines, since it’s impossible for an algorithm to determine if something is defamatory.

Or, wait, are you the commenter who claims to have figured out a way for search engines to exclude defamatory pages, and that in the absence of Section 230 you’d be able to make a business out of a search engine with this amazing defamation detecting technology?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Search engines are NOT immune in other countries, yet they somehow still exist in Australia and the UK, so you’re wrong. They exist because of the notice-and-takedown setup that allows them to avoid liability if they remove defamatory content once put on notice. This is less burdensome than the "right to be forgotten."

Female victims of revenge porn should have had this option but did not. If you place Google’s need to exist above a woman’s need not to be targeted by revenge porn, I’d say that speaks for itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Before Section 230, distributor liability in America kicked in only after the distributor was put on notice of the defamation. Interestingly, Congress did NOT include the word "distributor" in Section 230, and the courts usually consider such an omission to be an indicator of legislative intent. The Supreme Court has had twenty-three years and many chances to simply affirm Section 230, yet they have refused to do so. Why? Until they do, it is not resolved.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Female victims of revenge porn should have had this option but did not. If you place Google’s need to exist above a woman’s need not to be targeted by revenge porn, I’d say that speaks for itself.

I’d agree that Google should voluntarily do this. And in the absence of Section 230 varios revenge porn laws might require Google to take down links to revenge porn (depending on the wording of the laws). Is that all you’re saying? I’m uncertain as to whether or not you’re implying that revenge porn is a type of defamation that would fall under defamation laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Revenge porn is harassment under most state law, but even that is immunized under Section 230. Distributor liability does NOT require a website to be treated as the publisher or speaker of an item. It’s a separate category.

Yes, Google SHOULD remove inaccurate or defamatory/privacy-invading links, just as companies SHOULDN’T advertise with them until they do, and "good" people SHOULDN’T do business with companies that advertise in websites that hide behind Section 230, but that’s Fantasyland.

Reality? Money and power prevail, it’s everyone for themselves, and no one wants to be your friend unless you have something to offer. If you are screwed over by Section 230 or anything else, either you deserved it, or you’re bitter and angry and should be avoided (because bitter, angry people don’t have anything to offer).

People who think this way are basically declaring war on those they speak to this way. If the target of their derision takes corrective measures by playing by their rules and beating them at their own game, they will be the ones who started it. If someone bullies another, thinking the other will never become stronger than them, they deserve what they get. Fuck with someone unprovoked at very serious peril, because the person fucked with will literally turn into a different person and have absolutely no mercy when the tables turn.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wasn’t talking about opinions of a creative work, but rather lies that cause people to act out. Even those are immune. India has a big problem with vigilante mobs who have reacted to online defamation with violence, and are looking to revise "Article 79" of their IT law, which immunizes distributor liability via a notice-and-takedown scheme similar to what US law requires of people offline.

If you support Section 230, you are saying it is more important than any individual’s reputation, or even the well-being of female revenge-porn victims. There’s a reason it keeps getting challenged, and congress wants to revise it.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… which is why anyone who relies on Google to check out other people has defective DNA …

Anyone who uses Google to check out other people will presumably follow the link to see who is making the claim about the PoI (Person of Interest):

  • If the one making the claim about the PoI is anonymous, then they checker would presumably give that claim the appropriate weight.
  • If the one making the claim was not anonymous, but in a country making it difficult or impossible to sue, then presumably the checker would also give that claim the appropriate weight.
  • If the one making the claim was not anonymous and in a country making it easy to sue them, then presumably the checker would also give that claim the appropriate weight.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So they follow the link and, in some cases, now their computer is infected with a virus, put there by liars for the specific purpose of misleading the stooge into mistreating the target.

Yes, people are always rational and smart, as well as educated enough to judge internet sources. No one is EVER misled. Sometimes it can even be a fake review on a US site.

What these Googlers don’t realize is that their internet searches for gossip or "dirt" become part of THEIR internet history, and fair game for reviews of THEIR businesses (including law practices), or websites about THEM, which, unlike the defamatory websites, are not lying.

Sometimes these sites are put up by people that lawyers hire to set up these stooges for defamation lawsuits that the lawyers then come in to defend, paid for by rich people or, if the stooge is not rich, crowdfunded. This is an internet racket most people can’t even understand, let alone stop. People are just plain stupid, which goes back to the need to sterilize them, lest they reproduce with other idiots who believe what they read on the internet.

Google has the reliability of a bathroom wall, except with libel on a bathroom wall, the owner of the venue with the bathroom can be sued for letting it stand. One should never do business with sites who advertise on the internet as well, since Section 230 immunizes the platforms against claims of false-advertising.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So they follow the link and, in some cases, now their computer is infected with a virus, put there by liars for the specific purpose of misleading the stooge into mistreating the target.

Wait, what? How is a virus infection from a webpage defaming John Doe going to mislead people about John Doe?

What these Googlers don’t realize is that their internet searches for gossip or "dirt" become part of THEIR internet history, and fair game for reviews of THEIR businesses (including law practices), or websites about THEM, which, unlike the defamatory websites, are not lying.

How are third parties going to get their hands on someone’s search history? I mean, in theory Google could sell the search histories of individuals to third parties, in which case if I didn’t like John Doe I could buy his search history and put it up on a website, but Google isn’t going that now. Are you implying that Google will start doing this in the near future, so people should be worried about their search histories?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’m talking about third-parties who relink to the virus-infected, defamatory website to discredit someone in an internet argument. THAT becomes part of their internet history: they were dumb enough to believe what they read online, and followed a search-engine link to a virus-infected, defamatory website all because they wanted "dirt" on someone.

Once that is part of their internet history, the person they were targeting can use "counterspeech" to document this history on the business website of the person (even an attorney) who started the fight, and unlike the aggressor, won’t be telling lies. In other words, the website lied about John Doe, but John Doe wasn’t lying when he posted a review to the other party’s business website that this party visited a virus-infected website and even linked others to that site because it had defamatory content they wanted to believe about John Doe.

"When you point a finger, three are pointing back at you."

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Translation: "This is a convoluted twist of invented logic that has no basis in reality. It is presented in a confusing fashion, either due to incompetence, or due to a desire to be as obfuscatory as possible in order to derail the ability of the people I am interacting with to respond in a coherent fashion.

"I have proven to be an intransigent commenter with no willingness to consider anything that does not support my own assertions, and no willingness to provide any outside data or evidence to support my own assertions.

"I either react with indignation when people call this out, or simply run away, and am therefore generally consider to be a liar, and idiot, or both."

Have a nice day, Sanford.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

How "easy" is it to sue someone for libel if one is not wealthy? Suppose the person in the US is judgment-proof, homeless, dying, or whatever?

Section 230 allows for defamatory content to become a quasi-official "record" on the person. That should never be tolerated. There should be recourse as there is with credit-reporting to have inaccurate items removed.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"The single publication rule, combined with Section 230, makes people defenseless against libel that turns up in search engines"

No it doesn’t, it just means that your lazy money grubbing ass has to sue the originating site that actually committed the libel rather than Google. The information will disappear off Google once the originating content is taken down.

"If the original publisher cannot be found"

If Google indexes it, the host must be up. Go after that host. Simple.

I’m sorry that the concept of "attack the person who committed the crime, not the nearest witness" is so hard for you, but thankfully other still believe in a just society.

Sharur says:

"written four months before the law...became law"

Is this actually a problem, legally speaking? (Ethically, the whole thing is horrible, but I am asking from a legal perspective only).

I know the US Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws, but does the Philippines have similar prohibitions, enshrined in law (as opposed to common sense)?

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: "written four months before the law...became law"

Even if they do, it might not matter.

Since she’s in violation of a "cyberlibel" law, depending on the mental gymnastics you use, every time a new person looks at your website is a "new publication."

Is your publication date the day you clicked ‘post,’ or when the "new copy" is generated by the server when someone follows a link? It’s obvious that printing a new batch of libelous books is actionable, but some idiots argue that you’re "printing" a new copy every time your server responds to a data transfer request.

If a judge is ignorant enough, or bought well enough, then they can decide that ex-post-facto laws don’t even apply. You’ve been continuously "printing" the material since you uploaded it.

That’s ignoring, of course, that the "libelous" content the reporter was arrested for was: A – factual; B – obtained from believable sources (court documents); and C – taken from government intelligence reports. In a sane country, none of those qualify as libel.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Incredibly, the article that the government claims is libelous… was written four months before the law they claim it violated actually became law.

This is why a principled stand against any and all retroactive laws is important, because if not, stuff like this happens. Stuff like retroactive copyright term extensions, or even well-intentioned things like the recent police records law in California, need to be opposed just as much as "big things" like this, otherwise they become the proverbial camel’s nose that ends up leading to big things like this.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Stuff like retroactive copyright term extensions, or even well-intentioned things like the recent police records law in California, need to be opposed just as much as "big things" like this, otherwise they become the proverbial camel’s nose that ends up leading to big things like this.

I disagree with your assessment of California’s police records law. Nothing in the question of "retroactivity" in that law violates ex post facto concepts. It is not criminalizing anything that happened in the past. It is merely saying that past records should be available to the public now. So that’s a very different story. If it was criminalizing past police behavior, I’d agree. But it is not, so it is not at all equivalent.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes. You see, the reporter’s story was not illegal when it was posted (if it’s even illegal now).

The records of police misconduct are records of actions of that were illegal at the time they were committed.

The law simply says that the police have to let the public know about those illegal actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes. You see, the reporter’s story was not illegal when it was posted (if it’s even illegal now).

OK, but was she arrested for writing an illegal article (a charge easily dismissed if the law was not in force then) or for distributing an article more recently?

In the USA for instance, there are types of pornography that used to be legal to distribute and now aren’t; people can’t be prosecuted for having taken/distributed those pictures legally, but if you have them up on your website you’d better get them off of there: distribution is a crime now, for which past distribution is not a defense.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

sigh

That’s the point I was making: a retroactive law is a retroactive law, and trying to artificially partition it into "bad retroactive (criminalizing stuff)" and "acceptable retroactive (everything else)" is a bad idea. The court cases that established that were badly decided, and a principled view would reject the entire thing. Anything that gives legitimacy to the notion of laws that can reach back in time and change the rules of the game out from under you–even if that change is one that happens to be a positive one from your point of view–should be opposed, if for no other reason than because it sets a bad precedent that can be used against you in the future.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

What part of "it’s important to stick to principles even when they lead to an outcome you don’t like, because if they get eroded, next time it could be used to stop an outcome you do like" don’t you understand?

It’s not very big, (yet!), but there’s a real movement out there to lower the age of consent in the USA. If this were to happen, depending on how it gets implemented, one of the effects could well be to lower the legal age threshold for participating in pornography. In such a case, would you support the release of child pornographers who knew that what they were doing was extremely illegal when they did it? (And if not, how is this any different?)

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Problem: the law in question isn’t retroactive in that sense.

The law specifically requires the release in the now of records that currently exist. The only "retroactive" part of this is that the records in question may document actions that occurred prior to the law’s existence.

The law does not retroactively make any actions illegal. All records in question document actions that were already illegal. The actions that are compelled by the law cover behavior moving forward. It does not hold anyone culpable for failing to release records prior to the law coming into effect.

I get your argument, Mason, but it doesn’t apply to the police records law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s not very big, (yet!), but there’s a real movement out there to lower the age of consent in the USA. If this were to happen, depending on how it gets implemented, one of the effects could well be to lower the legal age threshold for participating in pornography.

How do you figure? The age for pornography is above the age of consent in every state, AFAIK. (Unless you mean in relation to those ridiculous arrests of teens for sending photos of themselves, which is a real problem that needs legislative fixes)

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s the point I was making: a retroactive law is a retroactive law

But that’s the point you’re missing. This is not a "retroactive law." California’s law only applies to NEW requests for information. It is just determining what is subject to those requests.

That is entirely different. Do you really not see that?

trying to artificially partition it into "bad retroactive (criminalizing stuff)" and "acceptable retroactive (everything else)" is a bad idea.

No, you are completely mixing up two very different things. It is one thing to change the law retroactively. We agree that’s bad and wrong. But it’s entirely different to argue that things that used to be kept secret should now be made public. Or are you arguing that documents the government improperly classified should always be deemed classified as it would violate "retroactivity" to declassify them?

Because if that’s the case, you’re… going to have to make one hell of an argument to support that sort of nonsense.

Anything that gives legitimacy to the notion of laws that can reach back in time and change the rules of the game out from under you

But that’s not what’s happening. Literally, this law ONLY APPLIES TO NEW REQUESTS. Stop pretending it’s something different.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, you are completely mixing up two very different things. It is one thing to change the law retroactively. We agree that’s bad and wrong. But it’s entirely different to argue that things that used to be kept secret should now be made public. Or are you arguing that documents the government improperly classified should always be deemed classified as it would violate "retroactivity" to declassify them?

Because if that’s the case, you’re… going to have to make one hell of an argument to support that sort of nonsense.

You know, with as much as you talk about nuanced arguments, it’s a bit disappointing how often you seem to assume that people who disagree with your position don’t have any of their own.

There are policies in place that say that classified documents will be declassified at some future point. The people creating these documents are (or reasonably ought to be) aware of this; they know that what they’re creating will eventually be for public consumption, and in many cases this understanding can influence their choices in writing it. This is a well-understood phenomenon; among other things it’s the reason the deliberative process privilege exists as an exception to public records laws.

When you have something that was written without that understanding, its content is likely to be different in style and substance, and changing the rules out from under the author is unfair to them and to the people the records are about. (Which in this case includes not only the police, but also the people they interact with.)

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

When you have something that was written without that understanding, its content is likely to be different in style and substance, and changing the rules out from under the author is unfair to them and to the people the records are about.

These are records of police misconduct. AKA, they record actions taken by members of law enforcement that were illegal. These records are now being made available to the public, to force some accountability on a department that is paid by the public (via taxes), and ostensibly is intended to serve the public good.

The whole point of the law is predicated on the idea that it was unfair to the public to not be allowed access to these records of police misconduct. This law addresses that lack of fairness.

Please explain how "it might have been written differently if it was known it was going to be released," and the potential lack of fairness that presents to the author of the record outweighs the issues that locking away these records presents. Please explain how the release of these records to the public, which serves the public interests, is outweighed by style concerns.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Stuff like retroactive copyright term extensions, or even well-intentioned things like the recent police records law in California,

Bad example. The california law isn’t changing anything retroactively, it’s making clear that records that already exist are open to being seen by the public if they ask.

The law isn’t saying ‘Since you refused access before the law, you’re going to be punished’, it’s making clear that if they refuse access now they will be punished, and that yes, that includes old records too.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think all this are red herring, using Philippines vs Ressa. Are we forgetting it should be Ressa vs Keng? Notice that Ressa never denied about the libel, she mostly focus on the technicality’s of cyber libel law.

From what I have read the warrant of arrest was issued on feb 12, she have the whole day of the 13th to post bail yet she didn’t. It looks very scripted actually. The media are ready on the day of her arrest, I believed she planned it so she could present herself as a martyr. She actually posted a bail after spending a night in NBI. Lions to me a planned media exposure.

A. Jed Cheddar says:

By the way, "Ressa" is probably a CIA agent.

After Duterte started crackdown on drugs, suddenly "ISIS" showed up and made terrorist attacks. NOT coincidence.

Out of all arrests in the world, Masnick is highly selective. Journalists were among the hundreds MURDERED by Israel in recent months, besides the thousands wounded for life, due to protesting the apartheid wall where they’re penned like animals in their own country. — But never a hint of any bad about Israel from Masnick (especially not that the WALL there is evil). Only what serves his Googly agenda.

TFG says:

Re: By the way, "Ressa" is probably a CIA agent.

Did you know that you just search tags in TechDirt to find stories about a topic? It’s true!

https://www.techdirt.com/blog/?tag=israel

Let’s look at a selection, shall we?

1) https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180102/12230538910/facebook-allowing-israeli-security-forces-to-shape-news-palestineans-see.shtml

Excerpt: "Facebook continues to increase its stranglehold on news delivery, reducing pipelines of info to a nonsensically-sorted stream for its billions of users. Despite the responsibility it bears to its users to keep this pipeline free of interference, Facebook is ingratiating itself with local governments by acting as a censor on their behalf."

2) https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20181125/18264141103/israeli-exploit-developer-caught-negotiating-spyware-sales-with-saudi-government.shtml

I think the article title in the URL suffices here…

3) https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20181217/07265541244/why-is-congress-trying-to-pass-obviously-unconstitutional-bill-that-would-criminalize-boycotts-israel.shtml

Hey look, this one’s actually by Masnick! Funny, this sounds like a hint of something bad about Israel to me.

4) https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190128/16510941480/federal-judge-says-boycotts-arent-protected-speech.shtml

First line: "A federal judge in Arkansas has delivered a truly WTF First Amendment decision related to a state’s anti-Israel-boycott law."

Care to try your assertion again? Perhaps we can engage in some moving of goalposts? Maybe I can predict some upcoming talking points, if you bother to reply: "Well he’s clearly not going hard enough against them!" "something something copia" "Kid" "I WIN" And additional frothing about how he’s clearly a Google shill.

How utterly mind-numbing.

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