National Press Club supports SEC ruling vs. Rappler

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NPC President Paul Gutierrez says the ruling does not threaten press freedom. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 18) — Contrary to the call of several media groups, the National Press Club (NPC) of the Philippines expressed support for the ruling of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against online news organization Rappler Inc.

"Responsible journalism also means complying with the law," said NPC President Paul Gutierrez in a statement released Tuesday. "To say that the fate of one media entity found to have run afoul with the law translates to media repression in the country is stretching the argument a bit too much."

Rappler is facing closure after the SEC on Monday cancelled its license to do business for allegedly violating constitutional provisions on foreign ownership of media entities.

READ: SEC cancels Rappler's license to do business

Gutierrez said the ruling does not affect or threaten press freedom.

"The SEC finding is quite clear: that Rappler Inc., has indeed violated the law when it allowed the entry of foreign investors and also allowed,  specifically, Omidyar Network Fund LLC, to have control on 'corporate matters' of Rappler based on its own submissions to the SEC," Gutierrez noted.

The NPC president pointed out that other media organizations in the country continue to operate freely.

"In the broader Philippine media industry, Rappler is just one among the thousands of media entities in the country and whose operations have remained free," he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. on Wednesday welcomed the statement of the NPC.

"It is not an issue of the freedom of the press. It's an issue of upholding the constitutional ban on foreign ownership as far as the business of mass media is concerned," Roque said in a press briefing in La Union.

Contrary to Rappler's claim that it was not given due process in the case, Roque said the news outfit was given the opportunity to respond to the ruling.

'Mr. Duterte's next victim'

Other media groups continue to slam the SEC, even criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte for his supposed hand in the ruling.

The New York Times (NYT) published an editorial on Wednesday, "After Killing Spree, Is a Free Press Mr. Duterte's Next Victim?" saying that Duterte "stands out for his viciousness" among leaders.

"Exposing such brazen abuse of power is a hallowed mission of a free press, so it should come as no surprise that authoritarians like Mr. Duterte usually go after independent media," the editorial read.

The NYT said the government's move against Rappler is just "the tip of Duterte's assault on his media critics."

"His supporters have also made the Philippines a swamp of fake news, conspiracy theories and online harassment," it added.

The U.S. newspaper urged its readers to stand in support of Rappler.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) echoed NYT's stand, noting that the SEC had morphed from being "lenient" to "severe."

"The political context of this story cannot be ignored. It is happening amid the internecine outbursts of displeasure and vitriol by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and his closest allies against Rappler, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN, and generally journalists and media entities on the independent and critical reporting track," it said.

PCIJ compared the decision on Rappler with that on the Philippine Long Distance & Telephone Co. for skirting the 60-40 law on Filipino-foreign ownership of public utilities.

PCIJ called on its readers to continue monitoring the situation, as Rappler is poised to question the SEC decision before the Court of Appeals.

"Stand by Rappler. Assert and defend press freedom and the citizen's right to know," it urged.

Duterte had denied any involvement in the SEC ruling.

READ: Duterte: I had nothing to do with SEC's ruling on Rappler