Rappler to Roque: Palace coverage ban a press freedom issue

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 22) — "No, Mr. Roque. This is about press freedom."

This was how embattled online news site Rappler responded on Wednesday to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who had said that the ban on Rappler from covering Palace events was not meant to violate freedom of the press.

Read: Roque: Barring reporters from Palace briefings not a press freedom issue

"We will never prevent any media organization from practicing their profession," Roque said in a Tuesday Palace press briefing. "That is our firm commitment. We will never curtail the exercise of the freedom of the press, except access to the Palace is not part of the freedom of the press."

However, Roque said Rappler — which is seen as critical of the Duterte administration — has been publishing fake news.

"You make conclusions without facts," he said, speaking to Rappler's Palace reporter Pia Ranada. "You are resorting to editorializing stories when you should be sticking to facts."

Rappler, along with Inquirer, were labeled as peddlers of fake and malicious news by Special Assistant to the President Bong Go due to their reports on his involvement in the Navy frigate controversy.

Related: Bong Go: Frigate deal controversy endangering national security

Ranada also said she was informed by Malacañang Wednesday she has been barred from entering the Malacañang complex as a whole and not just the Palace.

The Rappler ban

The Office of the Executive Secretary said on Tuesday that Rappler would not be allowed to cover Malacañang events until the Court of Appeals (CA) issues a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) ruling that revoked the media outfit's registration.

Read: Rappler barred from covering Malacañang events

On Jan. 15, the SEC revoked Rappler business registration for allegedly engaging in a fraudulent transaction and circumventing constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership.

Read: SEC cancels Rappler's license to do business

Rappler questioned the ruling before the CA on Jan. 29, although it did not seek a TRO.

Read: Rappler takes case to CA, seeks to invalidate SEC decision

"No less than the SEC had declared it is not executing its decision until it becomes final and executory," Rappler said. "We did not apply for a TRO relying on good faith with the official statement, and now you are conveniently using it to suppress freedom. Judging from the actuations of this administration, you will find another way to bar us even if we get a TRO."

Related: SEC chair to critics: Prove politics behind decision to revoke Rappler's license

Rappler added that it is not the government's role to dictate which people can cover which events.

"There is a clear line between a nation's officials, and the press whose job it is to hold them accountable by informing the public of their actions," the agency said.

Who's next?

Rappler also said Roque bared the real reason for Rappler's ban.

"As you yourself admitted in a dzMM interview afterwards, referring to Ranada, "Bwisit sa kanya ang Presidente [The President is annoyed with her],"" the agency said. "You seem to just be echoing the chorus among the President's online supporters that press freedom is not the issue, but this is a clear case of intimidation."

The agency said Roque and the Duterte administration are "setting Rappler as an example" of what could happen to people who criticize the government.

"The government has set a precedent, and while we may be the pet peeve now, someone else could be next," it said.