As the outrage fad surrounding the shuttering of Rappler by the Philippines’ Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) rages on, we have so far observed a couple of things: (1) CEO Maria Ressa has been attempting to spin this as a “press freedom” issue to distract the public from her failures as CEO and (2) the fact that “press freedom” is not really an issue because Rappler‘s employees can potentially continue to express themselves outside of Rappler has become clearly evident.
Of late, another force is being felt pushing into this circus — the clout of Western liberal media weighing in. Ressa’s cheering squads have taken to quoting snippets from the “reports” on this circus issued by Western publications like the New York Times and the BBC to lend credibility to their campaign to mask the SEC compliance issues underneath the more emotionally-appealing “press freedom” narrative. Whatever these foreign media behemoths have to say is not much different from what Ressa’s “activist” circle has been spewing — which leads one to conclude that these venerable publications are engaging in the same lazy journalism that Rappler had long been subjecting its readers to. Rather than investigate the matter across a variety of sources, the NYT, the BBC, and other foreign news sites “reporting” on the Rappler debacle seem to be merely regurgitating what they are told by Ressa’s shills.
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The common theme of these news “reports” is the idea that the SEC ruling on Rappler is “politically motivated” because only Rappler — which stands out as the most critical and slanted of the Philippines’ big corporate media outlets — was singled out for shut down. But as observers have noted, the possibility of this “political motivation” does not, in any way, change the facts underlying the SEC ruling on Rappler. And if the argument is then shunted towards the question of why other media firms (or for that matter, any other businesses barred from accepting foreign funding by the Constitution) were not targetted by the SEC, then that becomes more an issue of when the SEC will get around to hunting those down as well.
But, for now, Rappler is the woman of the hour — the subject of the SEC’s action as of this time. The issue then is clear: Rappler must answer to the charges. It must also be honest about the broader issue on “press freedom” and acknowledge the truth: that there is no evidence at all that, in the bigger scheme of things, “press freedom” in the Philippines is in any real danger. The idea that the demise of Rappler spells the end for “press freedom” is an idea crafted by a bunch of self-important media princesses at best.
As I wrote earlier, Rappler‘s Rapplerettes don’t need to be Rappler employees to enjoy “free speech” and “free expression”. They can easily open a blog or take to Facebook or Twitter to express whatever prissy opinion they might want to express. Indeed, they can even continue to enjoy access to Malacanang — so long as they pass Assistant Comms Secretary Mocha Uson’s blogger accreditation criteria, that is.
There continues to be many options to exercise one’s right to “free speech” outside of Rappler. It seems, the princesses of soon-to-be shuttered Rappler are the only folk who fail to realise this. They are, instead, feeding the flawed notion that “free speech” dies when Rappler dies to the foreign media. By doing so, they are also exploiting the general ignorance of the West about how things really are on the ground in the Philippines. Amazingly, foreign media accede to regurgitating these tall tales on their pages — further highlighting why they too suffer from crises of relevance and credibility in their own countries.
Unfortunately for Rappeler‘s henchwomen, Filipinos are no longer as impressed by what the foreign media have to say as they used to be. The idea that foreign media can significantly sway the Philippine electorate is as obsolete as the Cold War slogans of the Philippines’ communist “activists” who are, themselves, vainly attempting to bandy the same “press freedom” slogans in their own street rallies. The incredible rise to power of Duterte, who had, from the very start, not been corporate media’s most favourite person is proof of this.
Lack of strategic direction, lack of innovation in serving their constituents, and lack of sense in their choice of “issues” to highlight — the Philippine Opposition under the leadership of the Yellowtards have, yet again, chosen the wrong argument to support. “Press freedom” in the Philippines is not dead. The only thing dead in the water is Rappler. And it could drag all its employees down with it as it sinks thanks to the arrogance of its CEO, Maria Ressa.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.