Nobel laureate Maria Ressa confirmed on Wednesday that the Philippine government is pressing forward with an order to shut down Rappler, the news website she co-founded.
The site, which gained notoriety for reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs, was ordered to shut a day before Duterte leaves office.
Despite the order, Ressa vowed to keep the site running despite the order.
“We continue to work, it is business as usual,” she said.
Rappler, the news organization co-founded by Ressa in 2012, has been at the forefront of the campaign against fake news and disinformation in the country, pooling together resources among a variety of actors — including reporters, lawyers and activists — to fact-check and expose disinformation.
Sleepless night for Ressa
“Part of the reason I didn’t have much sleep last night is because we essentially got a shutdown order,” Ressa told the audience during a speech in Hawaii.
As vocal critics of Duterte, Ressa and Rappler have faced a series of criminal charges, probes and online attacks.
The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) confirmed on Wednesday the “revocation of the certificates of incorporation” of Rappler for violating “constitutional and statutory restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media,” almost four years after the SEC first accused Rappler of such breaches.
The news site vowed to appeal.
“We have discussed all possible scenarios with [Rappler’s staff] since [the] SEC issued its first order in 2018,” said Glenda Gloria, executive editor and co-founder of the site. “Nothing ever sufficiently prepares an organization for a ‘kill’ order,” Gloria added.
Several attempts to shut down Rappler
The government has taken several steps to shut down Rappler by charging Ressa and the publication with multiple counts of tax evasion and cybercrimes.
She was convicted of online libel in 2020 under the Philippines’ anti-cybercrime law, which critics say is used as a means to quash dissent. In response, Ressa has accused the government of weaponizing “not only social media but also the country’s laws and is using it against media organizations.”
Speaking at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum in Bonn earlier this month, Ressa noted that lies, laced with anger and hate, spread faster than facts. “Rebuilding trust with truth is vital to combat the rise of fascism,” she said.
Ressa’s comments came at a time when journalists and human rights activists in the Philippines are increasingly concerned about the ascent to power of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the former Philippine dictator. He is set to become president on Thursday after his recent electoral triumph.
Marcos Jr.’s running mate — Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing President Duterte — was sworn in as vice president earlier this month.
Both of them have so far failed to acknowledge the human rights atrocities that took place under their fathers.
The Philippines ranked 147 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
Last year, Ressa shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in the face of authoritarian crackdowns.
Ressa was convicted in 2020 for cyber libel in one of the government’s several cases against Rappler. She is currently out on bail.
see/rs (AP, AFP)