January 29, 2018 / 12:00 PM / 10 months ago

Philippine news site challenges regulator's decision to revoke licence

MANILA (Reuters) - An online news platform critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday asked the Court of Appeals to set aside the corporate regulator’s decision to revoke its licence, invoking freedom of the press.

Journalists work at the office of Rappler in Pasig, Metro Manila, Philippines January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao/Files

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ruled that news website Rappler (www.rappler.com) violated foreign equity restrictions on domestic media because it “sold control to foreigners”, a decision Rappler contested.

The SEC said its decision had not become final, allowing Rappler to continue business, pending a court challenge within 15 days.

“The SEC’s real purpose in going after Rappler and Rappler Holdings Corporation is to silence them and muzzle freedom of speech,” the firm told the court, asking for the ruling to be set aside as the “state has acted with tyranny by putting them out of business”.

It added, “Rappler is being made to pay the ultimate price for exercising the freedom of the press.”

Rappler’s lawyer, Francis Lim, said it hoped the case “will ultimately be decided for the interest of the country”.

“Our petition raises legal issues that have far-reaching implications on business and press freedom,” Lim said, adding the SEC decision “has a chilling effect on business” and could be disastrous to government efforts to attract foreign capital.

The online news platform said no foreigner had exercised control, whether direct or indirect, over it, adding that the SEC had violated its own rules by denying Rappler due process.

Rappler said it was not informed about the decision by a special investigation panel of the regulator and was surprised by the January 11 decision revoking its licence.

SEC head Teresita Herbosa welcomed Rappler’s court challenge. “It’s their right,” she said in a text to Reuters.

A U.N. rapporteur and journalists’ groups in the Philippines and abroad have expressed concern over the SEC’s decision, calling it an assault on the freedom of the press.

Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said the issue was distant from questions about press freedom, as Rappler used “deceptive schemes” to raise funds. He also denied any political pressure on the SEC to target the president’s critics.

Rappler has repeatedly drawn the ire of Duterte, who called it a “fake news outlet” after it said his closest aide, Bong Go, had intervened in a naval frigate project.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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