Philippine SEC remains firm in revoking Rappler's publishing license

The SEC has accused the Philippine media outlet of using foreign investments in a "deceptive scheme" to stay in business

Johanna Chisholm
January 18, 2018
Philippine SEC remains firm in revoking Rappler's publishing license

The Philippine Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) remains firm in their decision to close down news website Rappler, an outlet that has received international recognition for their critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte and his ongoing drug war.

The SEC ruled to retract the publishing license of one of the country’s few independent media sites on Monday, citing Rappler’s alleged foreign ties as being in violation of the Philippine Constitution, Al Jazeera reported.

The government agency said that online news site was using a “deceptive scheme” to stay in business, leading to a decision that invalidated a legal document from 2015 that allowed the company to acquire funds from investors overseas.

The foreign ownership that the SEC has called into question is Rappler’s connection to US billionaire and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar, who founded eBay, props up a number of independent news organisations – including Jeremy Scahill’s investigative news site the Intercept – by providing financial support through his philanthropic investment group, Omidyar Network, the LA Times reported.

The SEC is relying on a provision within the Philippine Constitution, specifically Article 16, Section 11 (1), where it states that mass media companies functioning within the country “shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens”.

Rappler, however, has previously acknowledged that the media company has two foreign investors, namely Omidyar Network and US-based North Base Media.

These firms, as was first reported by Channel News Asia, were listed on Rappler’s 2015 SEC filings as having made investments into the media company’s Philippine Depository Receipts (PDR).

PDRs, according to Rappler, are commonly used in the Philippines by media outlets, as they allow Filipino companies to receive investments from foreigners who have no say in the day-to-day management of the company.

The SEC, however, contends that the PDRs that the Omidyar Network provided to Rappler allowed for them to exercise operational control over the media company.
Both Rappler and Omidyar have come out to deny these allegations, with the US-based group being moved to issue an official statement on the matter.

“[This is] is an unfortunate interpretation of Filipino law that reduces press freedom and independent news coverage in the Philippines,” read the statement on Omidyar Network’s official website.

“Omidyar Network does not own any shares in either Rappler Holdings Corporation or Rappler Inc., nor does it have any voting rights, management responsibilities or any other form of control in either company, nor any editorial input in Rappler,” it continued.

In a note to their readers posted on their website on Monday, Rappler responded to the SEC’s ruling to revoke their publishing license, saying it was a blatant attack on press freedom.

“The commission is ordering us to close shop, to cease telling you stories, to stop speaking truth to power, and to let go of everything that we have built — and created — with you since 2012,” the editors said. “This is pure and simple harassment.”

The Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. responded to accusations on Tuesday that President Rodrigo Duterte, who Rappler has been a watchful critic of since his rise to power in 2016, was behind the commission to close Rappler’s doors.

“He could not control the majority of the commissioners,” the LA Times reported Roque as saying to a room full of reporters on Tuesday.

Rappler will challenge the decision in court, but in the meantime has remained firm in their commitment to speak truth to power.

“We will continue bringing you the news, holding the powerful to account for their actions and decisions, calling attention to the government lapses that further empower the disadvantaged,” the editors wrote in their note. “We will hold the line.”

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