GENEVA (25 January 2018) – The Philippines Government must halt moves to shut down independent news website Rappler, a group of UN human rights experts* have said.
“We are gravely concerned that the government is moving to revoke Rappler’s licence,” said the three Special Rapporteurs in a joint statement.
For several years Rappler, an innovative and independent source of news and analysis in the Philippines, has provided critical coverage regarding the current administration’s violent “war on drugs” and the spread of disinformation over the internet and social media, allegedly by government officials and their supporters. In turn President Duterte and his leading supporters have strongly criticized Rappler. Some of the criticism has included threats of physical harm to Rappler reporters.
“Rappler’s work rests on its own freedom to impart information, and more importantly its vast readership to have access to its public interest reporting,” the UN experts said. “As a matter of human rights law, there is no basis to block it from operating. Rappler and other independent outlets need particular protection because of the essential role they play in ensuring robust public debate.”
Rappler’s certificate of incorporation was revoked on 11 January by the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over allegations it breached ownership rules when it accepted money from foreign investors. Rappler is continuing to operate while it is challenging the decision of SEC in court. If the decision is upheld, the news outlet will be forced to close.
“The SEC’s move is at odds with its past approach to foreign support of local or national media, given that philanthropic contributions do not amount to foreign ownership,” the experts noted.
“It has rejected the previously accepted format of contributions which media companies use to raise foreign funding.
“We are especially concerned that this move against Rappler comes at a time of rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country,” the UN experts concluded. “We urge the Government to return to its path of protection and promotion of independent media, especially those covering issues in the public interest.”
*The UN experts: Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.