In a shocking turn of events, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has confirmed that online news site Rappler has violated the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law. Unbeknownst to the public, Rappler accepted funds from foreigners, specifically eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidya and technology investment firm North Base Media to operate its news site:
The En Banc finds Rappler, Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corporation, a Mass Media Entity and its alter ego, liable for violating the constitutional and statutory Foreign Equity Restriction in Mass Media, enforceable through laws and rules within the mandate of the commission”.
The SEC has finally revoked Rappler’s license to operate because of this. Rappler’s operators have 15 days to appeal the regulatory board’s decision. This is a major blow to its embattled Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa. The onus is on Ressa, who failed to ensure everything is above board and legal, to answer to her investors, her employees, her readers, and other stakeholders of Rappler. The buck stops with her.
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It has become apparent that Ressa is not fit to lead a company. She may be an “award-winning journalist” but when it comes to running an organisation, she fails big time. Instead of blaming other people like President Rodrigo Duterte, everyone should be asking Ressa why she allowed this fiasco to happen. Did she even ask her legal team if accepting funds from foreigners is allowed? And how can she not know? She is an “award-winning journalist” for chrissake! Besides, ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
There were people who already rang the alarm bells about Rappler‘s violation. One of them is Duterte himself who mentioned in his 2017 State of the Nation Address that Rappler is American-funded. Manila Times Columnist Rigoberto Tiglao also wrote an exposé about it:
While mining and energy magnate Benjamin Bitanga is the principal Filipino owner of Rappler, the firm got a reported $2 million in investments in 2015 from US firms Omdiyar Network (funded by the founder of the world’s biggest online retailer eBay) and tech investment firm North Base Media.
Rappler’s excuse that these firms merely invested in it (through “Philippine Depositary Receipts”) but “don’t own” (sic) is total hogwash, as I explain below.
Announcements in the US and by Rappler itself of American firms’ investments in the online-only news site. The SEC didn’t authorize it to issue PDRs, a serious violation of securities laws.
The Constitution’s Article XVI, Section 11 is categorical: “The ownership of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines.” That means that not a single peso of foreign money can be invested in a media company. Indeed, even in an era of free-flowing capital, most countries in the world have maintained their restrictions on foreign capital in their media. For good reason, since only its citizens must have primary control of the means of forming public opinion.
Tiglao’s advocacy calling on the SEC to look into Rappler’s violation has paid off. Tiglao should be commended for his work. He is looking after the welfare of the nation.
The government should also look into the possibility that Ressa and her allies are conniving with foreign entities in an effort to bring down the current government. After all, Ressa has been very blatant about exaggerating and bloating the figures on deaths due to the war on drugs. Ressa has also been going on media blitzes overseas in the past telling everyone from abroad who cares to listen that Duterte is a “threat to democracy”. Rappler’s propaganda has painted the current government in a bad light before the international media.
What’s equally shocking after the SEC ruling is that there are lawmakers like Senator Risa Hontiveros who immediately conclude that the move is a clear sign of Duterte harrassing journalists who are critical of him. She said this even before she read the SEC ruling. Those are the kinds of Senators the Philippines have – those who talk and issue statements even before analysing the data. No wonder the country remains backward. Hontiveros is a threat to the welfare of the Filipino people. She is not looking out for their interests.
Rappler operators and their allies are quick to condemn the Duterte government, calling it “Marcosian” in an apparent reference to when former Ferdinand Marcos suppressed press freedom in 1971. They are very predictable, indeed. They are playing the victim card as usual. It’s as if they have no fault in this.
Just because government agencies are enforcing the law doesn’t mean they have become Duterte’s lapdogs. Some people are accusing SEC of being such just because they enforced the law against Rappler. But why did Rappler violate the law in the first place? It’s a simple question that those who are outraged by the decision should ask Ressa.
Rappler was only founded in 2012. They have been operating for a mere 5 years. This means they cannot claim to be an institution in Philippine society nor pretend their journalists are God’s Gift to the Filipino People. The Filipino people can live without their shallow editorials and biased reporting – geared towards uplifting the Opposition who lost in the 2016 Presidential election. There are other news sites that deliver the news. It is not true that “freedom of the press is under threat”. Some news outlets are more professional in abiding by journalistic standards compared to Rappler. Rappler has become tabloid-like in its reporting. Its reporters have become speculative and are no longer investigative.
If not for violating the law, Rappler should be shut down for promoting mediocrity.
It is only in the Philippines where news organisations become constant subjects of the news. First it was the Philippine Daily Inquirer. It turns out the owners of the Inquirer owed the government billions of pesos in taxes from their other companies Sunvar Realty Development Corporation and Dunkin Donuts. Behind the façade of “truth crusaders”, the owners were as corrupt as the people they crucify in their paper. Now we have Rappler who violated the constitution on foreign ownership. How can the public trust these media operators? No wonder the public has turned to bloggers and social media personalities for the “truth”. But these mainstream media operators have the gall to cry bloody “persecution”.
The public will not miss Rappler, its slanted news reporting, and its mediocre editorials. The Filipino people demand excellence and substance from their news organisations. That’s not something Ressa and her team can provide.
In life, things are not always what they seem.