Rappler, Nobel laureate’s news site, must close in the Philippines

A Philippine news site co-founded by Nobel laureate Maria Ressa has been ordered to shut down, the company said Wednesday, a day before President Rodrigo Duterte, its nemesis, leaves office.

Ressa has been an outspoken critic of Duterte and the deadly drug war he launched in 2016, leading to what media advocates say is a crushing series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks against her and Rappler.

The final blow was delivered by the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission.

In a statement Wednesday, it confirmed Rappler’s “revocation of certificates of incorporation” for violating “constitutional and legal restrictions on foreign ownership in the mass media.”

Rappler said the decision “basically confirmed the company’s closure” and promised to appeal, describing the proceedings as “highly irregular”.

“We’ve discussed all possible scenarios with Rapplers (staff) since the SEC issued the first order in 2018,” Glenda Gloria, the site’s editor-in-chief and co-founder, told reporters.

“Nothing ever adequately prepares an organization for a ‘kill’ order.”

Rappler has had to fight to survive as the Duterte administration accused her of violating a constitutional ban on foreign property in obtaining funding and of tax evasion.

It has also been charged with cyber dragonfly — a new criminal law introduced in 2012, the same year Rappler was created.

Duterte has attacked the website by name, calling it a “fake news channel,” due to a story about one of his closest associates.

The news portal is accused of allowing foreigners to take control of its website through the issuance of “certificates” by parent company Rappler Holdings.

According to the constitution, investments in media are reserved for Filipinos or Philippine-controlled entities.

The case stems from the 2015 investment of the US Omidyar Network, which was founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar later turned over his investment in Rappler to the site’s local managers to thwart Duterte’s attempts to shut down the site.

Ressa, who is also a US citizen, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for their efforts to “ensure freedom of expression”.

Ressa is fighting at least seven lawsuits, including an appeal against a conviction in a cyber dragonfly case, for which she has been released on bail and faces up to six years in prison.

The International Center for Journalists has urged the Philippine government to reverse the order to shut down Rappler.

“This legal harassment is not only costing Rappler time, money and energy. It enables relentless and productive online violence designed to cool independent reporting,” ICFJ said in a statement on Twitter.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the former dictator of the Philippines who led widespread human rights abuses and corruption, will succeed Duterte on Thursday.

Activists fear Marcos Jr’s presidency could worsen human rights and freedom of expression in the country.