THE Rappler news site deserves punishment for violating the 1987 Constitution, but the punishment should not be fatal. To be clear, we’re not fans of this beleaguered company. Much of its content seems biased. Plus, Maria Ressa, its co-founder and CEO, never misses an opportunity to make self-serving statements, especially when she’s caught doing something wrong. Yet shutting down this website is likely to do more harm to the democratic principle of free speech. As Beatrice Evelyn Hall so aptly put it, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the certificates of incorporation of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corp., confirming its decision in 2018. Rappler was cited for taking capital from Omidyar Network, an investment company American owned by eBay. It is illegal because media companies in the Philippines must be wholly owned by Filipinos.
Rappler plans to appeal the SEC’s decision, arguing that Omidyar did not buy stock. Instead, he held Philippine Certificates of Deposit (PDRs), which are sophisticated financial instruments that essentially look like a loan or an option. In other cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that PDRs are legal instruments in industries with restrictions on foreign capital, but those issued by Rappler gave Omidyar proprietary rights. In other words, Rappler called the cash injections PDRs, but the SEC ruled that they were actually illegal investments.
If true, this isn’t the first time Rappler has misnamed things. For example, he claims to be an independent journalism provider in the Philippines. He also denounces other local media as biased or lenient, particularly on former President Rodrigo Duterte and his successor, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. But look at Rappler’s reports. They are obviously biased towards the political rivals of the two, especially former Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo in the election.
Journalists should treat each party as fairly and objectively as possible. Naturally, they must not favor the government, but independence also means being independent of the opposition. As Ms. Ressa often says, journalism owes its loyalty only to facts and truth.
However, she does not respect her own words. In statements about defamation cases filed against her, for example, Ms. Ressa picks out the facts by barely mentioning that the plaintiff was an individual, not the government. In fact, Rappler has been unclear about his role in the black propaganda that led to the ousting of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona from the Supreme Court.
In her calls to defend press freedom, Ms. Ressa often mentions ABS-CBN, which lost its right to vote in Congress after some lawmakers accused it of also violating the Constitution. But freedom of the press is not a license for illegal acts. Also, it would be more appropriate to blame ABS-CBN’s owners and senior executives for letting down their reporters and other employees by violating the Constitution and other laws regarding its franchise.
Remember, however, that ABS-CBN only lost its franchise, not its corporate life. Its radio frequencies or waves belong to the people, and Congress, acting as their representative, regulates their use. So far, the network continues to operate, although limited online and through partnerships with other media companies. For businesses and individuals alike, death is a cruel and unusual punishment. Even those who disagree might concede that such punishment is reserved for heinous crimes.
In this regard, the authorities should allow Rappler to exist. Since it does not have a deductible to revoke, the penalties and fines will have to be sufficient.
Admittedly, this editorial might be unpopular with many of our readers. But even if one considers Rappler the worst, he has rights that cannot be ignored.
Finally, the SEC and other authorities need not be overprotective of what people read or hear from any media. Filipinos are more intelligent and perceptive than attributed to them even by Rappler. People are better judges of what is good to read than the government.