Oledan: Conflicting interests

THE thing is Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corp. is an online news website managed and operated with an investment from a foreign company. Does this justify the need to arbitrarily close it down, even when it is not only accused of being critical of the government but also of violating the provision of the Constitution? I do not think so.

In a 29-page decision signed on January 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler's certificate of incorporation for allegedly violating the provision in the Constitution when they supposedly sold controlling interest to foreigners, a violation of the Foreign Equity Restriction of the Philippine Constitution.

The SEC said Rappler "intentionally created an elaborate scheme" to justify the receipt of over a $1M from a foreign investor, Omidyar Network. Apparently, a significant investment was made but the question remains, why had the SEC accepted and approved the application of Rappler, in the first place when the media company seemed to be transparent with the details of the said investment? On the other hand, what does the Omidyar Network intend to get out from its investment from Rappler?

The Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and of expression. In many instances and over the years, these were undermined not only by the government's threat and in the impunity against the violence perpetrated against those in the media profession but also every time when media itself compromise its integrity.

There are myths. And it includes the narrative that government can really go after those who express a different viewpoint and silence dissenting opinions. History has shown us the contrary.

"The SEC has apparently decided to reject Rappler's contention that its foreign investors merely placed money in the outfit but do not own it," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said in a statement. As expected, the foreign correspondents also came out with their own solidarity statement that "an assault against journalists is an assault against democracy."

Aside from the revocation of Rappler's Certificate of Incorporation, SEC also voided the Omidyar Philippine Depositary Receipt (PDR). Several large media companies reportedly have PDRs. Should these be reviewed too? What prompted the review, in the first place?

In the meantime, Rappler vowed to "hold the line" and continue to "call attention to government lapses that further disempower the disadvantaged." It is a tough task and a hard time for journalists not only to stand up against the powerful but also to balance some conflicting interests.

In the midst of the outcry against the infringement of press freedom, the SEC clarified that the decision is not yet final and executory. Rappler can still exhaust all available legal remedies.

The accountability rests on the media entity. The vigilance of the public to protect this hard fought freedom should continue. For several decades, the press has critically played an important role in development. No government can discount the credibility of any media organization which is working to uphold the truth. The mass media will always persist and insist on its role as the fourth estate.

An independent press is a free press. It is not beholden to any political or business interests. It cannot be cowed by government forces nor by any lobby group. It stands firm in the face of harassment and genuinely represent the voices of those who were disadvantaged by those in power, not by the elite who want their power back. It is consistent with its principles, a product of several years of being on the ground, with the people. It is not elitist and that is where the conflict lies.

Email comments to roledan@gmail.com.
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