Philippines orders closure of Maria Ressa’s news site

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Nobel laureate vows to keep her critical news site up and running after the Philippine government shut down the site for violating “restrictions on foreign property of the mass media.”

The Philippine Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa’s news company Rappler has been ordered to shut down on charges of violating the rules on foreign ownership of mass media, but she promised to keep the site up and running.

The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) order was announced Wednesday, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte resigns.

Ressa has been an outspoken critic of Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, leading to what media advocates say is a crushing series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks against her and Rappler.

In a statement, the SEC reaffirmed a previous order to shut down Rappler and said it was canceling the news site’s “certificates of incorporation” for violating “constitutional and legal restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media.”

Rappler said the decision “effectively confirmed the company’s closure” and promised to appeal, describing the proceedings as “highly irregular”.

But Ressa was typically defiant, promising that the news site would continue to operate as it followed the legal process.

“We’ll keep working, it’s business as usual,” Ressa told reporters, adding that “we can only hope for the best” under Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Rappler has had to fight to survive as the Duterte administration accused her of violating a constitutional ban on foreign property in obtaining funding and of tax evasion.

It has also been charged with cyber dragonfly — a new criminal law introduced in 2012, the same year Rappler was founded.

Duterte has attacked the website by name, calling it a “fake news channel,” due to a story about one of his closest associates.

The news portal is accused of allowing foreigners to take control of its website through the issuance of “certificates” by parent company Rappler Holdings.

According to the constitution, investments in media are reserved for Filipinos or Philippine-controlled entities.

The case stems from the 2015 investment of the United States-based Omidyar Network, which was founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar later turned over his investment in Rappler to the site’s local managers to thwart Duterte’s attempts to shut down the site.

Ressa, who is also a US citizen, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for their efforts to “ensure freedom of expression”.

Ressa is fighting at least seven lawsuits, including an appeal against a conviction in a cyber dragonfly case, for which she has been released on bail and faces up to six years in prison.

Rappler is facing about eight cases, Ressa said.

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) has urged the Philippine government to reverse the order to shut down Rappler.

“This legal harassment is not only costing Rappler time, money and energy. It enables relentless and productive online violence designed to cool independent reporting,” ICFJ said in a statement on Twitter.

Marcos Jr, the son of the former dictator of the Philippines who presided over widespread human rights abuses and corruption, will take over from Duterte on Thursday.

Activists fear Marcos Jr’s presidency could worsen human rights and freedom of expression in the country.





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