We, the members of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), issue this joint statement to express our concern about the order of the Philippine government to shut down the online news outlet Rappler.
We believe that the order to revoke the business license of Rappler is unwarranted, and a threat to press freedom in the Philippines.
We find it disturbing that the Philippines is now joining a trend in the region to use legal and technical bases to shut down critical media organizations or jail journalists, following the examples of Cambodia (2017), Myanmar (2014, 2017) and Thailand (2017). In most countries in the region, repressive media laws tend to control what journalists are able to report. It is regrettable that the Philippines, which has had one of the least censored press regimes in the region, is now following these countries to repress independent journalism.
Indeed, one disturbing aspect of the decision on Rappler is the implication of a de facto media licensing — which the Philippines thus far does not have. Filipino journalists have fought valiantly against moves to curtail the press, beginning with enshrining the strongest Constitutional protection on free speech and the press in any country in Southeast Asia. Now, the government has found a dangerous tool with which they can shut down any media organization.
We salute and look up to Rappler journalists who continue to report independently and critically on issues of governance. Since 2016 when Rappler began to investigate the deadly “war on drugs” and the government’s online propaganda machinery, their journalists have been under consistent and massive attack from pro-government trolls – who do not stop at personal insults and questions on professional integrity, but also threaten rape and murder. The Philippine government should be taking more decisive actions against these criminal acts, instead of targeting critical journalists and media.
The decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) strikes at the very existence of Rappler by revoking their license to operate as a legal entity.
We urge that the government response to any violation of law be proportional, and to balance the Constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media companies with the more fundamental provision to protect free speech and the press.
We stand with Rappler and the members of the Filipino journalist community in defending press freedom as a pillar of democracy. We offer our support and solidarity as part of our common struggle to defend and fight for press freedom in Southeast Asia.
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Alliance of Independent Journalists, AJI-Indonesia)
Asosiasaun Jornalista Timor Lorosa’e (Timor Leste Journalist Association, AJTL)
Burma News International (BNI)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Malaysia
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Forum Jurnalis Perempuan Indonesia (Forum of Women Journalists in Indonesia, FJPI)