Philippines Orders Critical News Organization, Rappler, Shut Down; Just As Rappler’s Founder Argues Against Free Speech
from the such-bullshit dept
We’ve written about Rappler, the very successful Filipino investigative news organization founded by reporter Maria Ressa, multiple times over the past few years. Rappler was very critical of the Rodrigo Duterte administration, but it’s reporting was solid. Back in 2018, the Filipino SEC announced that it was going to shut down Rappler, in a move that was clearly political retaliation for Rappler’s reporting.
What followed were a bunch of trumped up charges of tax evasion, cyberlibel, and some nonsense claiming that Rappler was violating the Philippines’ constitution by having foreign ownership. Rappler does not have foreign ownership. It received a grant from Omidyar Network, a philanthropic group that provides grants for lots of good work around the world. And, when that first happened, Rappler cleared it with the SEC and got it approved.
But… none of that seems to matter. Even with Duterte now leaving office, and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. taking over, it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be much different. The SEC has ordered the company be shut down entirely, again over the supposed foreign ownership.
In an order released on Wednesday, the Philippine SEC “affirmed and reiterated its earlier finding” from 2018 that Rappler is a “mass media entity” and it had granted control to a foreign entity “through the Philippine Depositary Receipt issued to Omidyar Network.”
“Rappler and RHC willfully violated the constitution … when they granted Omidyar control,” the order said. “Considering the seriousness and gravity of the infraction, and that it was no less the constitution that was violated, this commission finds and so holds that the penalty of revocation … should be affirmed and sustained.”
It’s notable (as we pointed out four years ago when all this nonsense started) that the constitution in the Philippines includes protection for free speech, their 4th Amendment, that reads quite similarly to our 1st Amendment.
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.
In the US, such a blatantly political shut down of a media organization would raise serious 1st Amendment issues. One would hope the same would be true in the Philippines.
Of course, one thing that’s somewhat ironic (or, perhaps, unfortunate is the better term) is that over the last few years, as Ressa has been fighting for her own free speech rights, she’s become increasingly hostile to the free speech rights of others. I’ve long respected Ressa for her fearless reporting work, but she’s become an outspoken critic of free speech online.
Just as the government was moving to shut down her company, Ressa gave an interview to Axios, where she basically trashed the free speech rights of the riff raff public, more or less arguing that people shouldn’t be allowed to speak on social media.
…these platforms are biased against facts. You don’t get facts. It’s toxic sludge. Social media encourages anger, hate, conspiracy theories. There’s violence….
She also trotted out a variation on the “fire in a theater” line, which is the would-be censor’s favorite line:
There’s a reason why, when news organizations were gatekeepers, we had standards and transparency. Free speech unchecked is like a person yelling fire and there’s not a fire. Free speech at all costs has costs.
This is really tragic. Rappler exists because the internet enabled it to exist. It allowed her to build up a truly world-class investigative reporting team that has done amazing work. And after spending all these years fighting the government trying to shut her down, you’d think she’d be more open to supporting the free speech of others, including the power of intermediaries to make it easier to speak.
Yes, some may argue that she’s highlighting nonsense that is posted on social media — but THAT’S EXACTLY how her critics trash her own work, by insisting that it’s all lies and nonsense, “full of falsehoods” and that gives them a justification to shut her down. It’s a shame that she’s so quick to support that line of reasoning that simply enables others in power to shut down critical voices.
Ressa doesn’t deserve what she’s been dragged through by her government. But, it would be nice if she recognized how she’s helping enable more such actions by justifying the silencing of speech.