Philippines Continues To Spit On Free Speech; Plans To Charge Key Media Critic With Bogus Claims Of Tax Evasion
from the enemy-of-the-people? dept
At the beginning of this year, we had a fairly long post about a dangerous situation brewing in the Philippines, where President Duterte was clearly trying to retaliate against one of his chief media critics, The Rappler, run by Maria Ressa. As I mentioned, I got to see Ressa speak at a conference last year, and the former CNN bureau chief is a force of nature who seems completely devoted to accurately reporting on President Duterte, no matter how much he dislikes it.
When we wrote about Ressa and Rappler in January, it was over some trumped up charges concerning claims of “foreign ownership.” That story is a bit complex, but in order to get a grant from the philanthropic Omidyar Network, Rappler sold what are known as Philippine Depository Receipts (or PDRs). PDRs do have value, which are tied to the value of shares in the company, but which don’t grant any of the related ownership rights. And yet, Duterte and the Filipino SEC have been arguing that Rappler committed tax evasion by somehow “not reporting” the PDR’s.
Rappler notes that’s a complete fabrication:
Tiglao argues that Rappler?s PDR sale ?is not reported in its financial statements submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.? (SEC)
This does not seem right.
Rappler?s financial statements and SEC general information statements have been posted on the internet. You can compare these financial statements to those in the prospectuses of ABS-CBN and GMA in the years these media companies sold PDRs, which show how PDRs are recorded by top audit firms.
Furthermore, Rappler notes that the law is pretty clear that if you sell PDRs to fewer than 20 people, you are exempt from registration requirements.
But, of course, none of this is actually about taxes and financial statements. It’s about intimidating and silencing a free (and critical) press. And that’s what’s happening. The government has announced that it is going to charge Rappler and Ressa with tax evasion charges that basically everyone can see is completely bogus. Here’s the UN’s free speech guru (and recent Techdirt podcast guest) David Kaye calling out what a travesty this is:
this is an absolute travesty, an effort by Duterte to shut down one of the most innovative press outlets in the #Philippines and one of the great journalistic entrepreneurs around, @mariaressa https://t.co/MZhXWElfFu
— David Kaye (@davidakaye) November 10, 2018
At a time when authoritarian leaders around the world are increasingly targeting and threatening the press, we should be extra vigilant over how these attacks are expanding in both scope and in brazenness.
Here is a case where it seems quite clear that the charges are being trumped up based on Rappler’s reporting, rather than based on anything even remotely legitimate. And whether or not Ressa and Rappler continue is beyond the point. The message to anyone else who wants to follow in their shoes is “don’t bother, we’ll make your life a living hell.” Obviously that won’t (and shouldn’t) stop many reporters, but it can have an enormous chilling effect on many, many people.