Espinoza: Who’s next?

IS the order of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to close Rappler News, for alleged violation of the law on 100 percent Filipino ownership of mass media only a coverup of the administration’s true intention? It’s no secret that Rappler is considered hostile to the administration, particularly on the issue of extrajudicial killings in President Duterte’s tough drive against illegal drugs.

During his State of the Nation Address last year, President Duterte identified Rappler as American-owned. He even mentioned ABS-CBN but not in detail.

This administration’s intention to close Rappler has a chilling effect on freedom of the press and could only be the beginning of more to come. SEC already forwarded its ruling to the Department of Justice. This simply suggests that criminal prosecution would follow against Filipino stockholders of Rappler, Inc., who are believed to be dummies of foreign investors.

SEC spokesman Armand Pan denied that the order was politically motivated. But he admitted that SEC scrutinized Rappler’s ownership due to an “initial formal request” from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). So, without that formal request from OSG, SEC would not have looked into the status of Rappler, Inc. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa said they religiously complied with SEC’s requirements.

SEC may have legal basis to close Rappler, but it cannot hide the fact that closing this multimedia outfit would mean one less acerbic critic of the administration. So, who’s next?

SEC revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler, Inc. because it allegedly sold control to foreigners. But Ressa denied it and said they were not afforded due process.

According to SEC, Rappler violated the constitutional restrictions on ownership and control of mass media entities because of money coming from Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar. SEC voided Omidyar’s Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR), a financial instrument that does not give the owner voting rights in the Board or a say in the management. SEC even accepted the PDRs that Rappler submitted in 2015.

Militant legislators condemned the SEC ruling as an “attack against press freedom.” But Malacañang said it’s not an infringement of press freedom because Rappler violated the Constitutional restrictions on foreign equity in mass media.

We’re not saying that because Rappler is a news outlet it is exempt from following laws, rules and regulations. But what is abhorrent is the manner it was ordered closed. In simple words, Rappler is not a sari-sari store.

As a media outlet, Rappler should not be closed or prevented from performing its media work. This is where the closure order is suspect. Rappler should be allowed to operate while it rehabilitates its corporate existence, if necessary.

Aside from the press freedom issue, the SEC’s ruling could also affect the business interests of non-Filipinos who may have invested huge funds in domestic corporations, like real estate, which is purely for Filipinos.

US President Trump has been subjected to attacks and jokes by media outfits in America but he never ordered their investigation or attempted to close them down. This is one American trait that somehow didn’t inspire us.
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