As I mentioned in my previous article, “press freedom” is the only defense Rappler and its cheerleaders have been issuing since it got its knuckles rapped for offenses against the constitutional bar on foreign ownership of media businesses in the Philippines. But is “press freedom” really under threat? It is if the people who make Rappler work are mere minions of Maria Ressa. But they are not. Many of them are, to be fair, independent thinkers and not necessarily beholden to one personality.
Thus, on the issue of “press freedom”, there is no actual “threat” to it despite all the shrieking we hear today, because the essence of Rappler is its writers and they remain free to write, express themselves, and publish elsewhere. The issue is corporate compliance and for its offenses, the business entity that is Rappler must pay the price. As its chief executive, Maria Ressa is responsible for the organisation’s administrative troubles. The buck stops at the chief executive.
Rapplerettes should understand that Rappler is just another corporate brand — a marketing notion created by Maria Ressa. Ressa had spun a potent cult around that brand by mounting a cleverly-crafted marketing campaign to raise its profile with potential investors, its target audience, and, most important of all, its employees. Thus much like the way premium brands like Apple and Starbucks are able to exact an irrational following from its customers (and work their employees like slaves) around what are essentially commodity products, Rapplerettes (and their readers) suffer the same kind of mass hypnosis.
But unlike Apple and Starbucks, the Rappler brand was built upon a nebulous product — one that has a weak differentiation proposition to the market, and, most important of all, one that fails to command a robust enough revenue stream to sustain a large base of fixed costs and commitments. Rappler has grown too big for its own good and has become inherently unable to honour its commitments — both to its employees and to its readers. It is also unable to honour its commitments to its investors, which is to provide them a return commensurate to their investment.
All the Rapplerettes need to do is to disabuse themselves of the notion that they owe Rappler their loyalty. Ressa has failed in her commitment to her employees to provide them a sustainable business concern to keep them employed and personally-fulfilled in their work. That is Failed CEO 101. Ressa is attempting to divert attention away from that personal failure of hers by crafting an imagined bogeyman — the so-called “Government Assault on Press Freedom”. Rapplerettes should know better than to be fooled by another instance of Ressa’s prowess for clever marketing. They should give themselves a bit more credit by realising that it is they, their writing skills, and their independent minds that give Rappler — the organisation — its power. They take that power with them when they walk out Rappler‘s doors.
Nobody is being silenced. But someone is being penalised for negligence as CEO. Filipinos — and most specially the esteemed employees of Rappler — should step back and understand the real issue here. Maria Ressa’s cult of personality is wearing thin, and those who had invested in her should cut their losses. It’s time for Rappler and the cultish community built around it to put down their joysticks and read the big text on the screen: Game Over.
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