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Press freedom not curtailed by SEC decision on Rappler — NPC

Press freedom in the Philippines should not be affected by the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) to revoke the corporate registration of online news organization Rappler, the National Press Club (NPC) said in a statement.

“In the broader Philippine media industry, Rappler is just one among the thousands of media entities in the country and whose operations have remained free," NPC President Paul Gutierrez said on Tuesday.

He added that 436 television broadcast stations, 411 AM radio stations, over 1,000 FM radio stations, more than 400 newspapers, and countless bloggers continue to operate freely.

“To say that the fate of one media entity found to have run afoul with the law translates to media repression in the country is stretching the argument a bit too much,” Gutierrez said.

He added that the NPC "purposely delayed issuing its statement" as it thoroughly reviewed the SEC's 29-page decision.

During its deliberations, the NPC came to the conclusion that Rappler violated the constitutional limit for foreign ownership of media companies.

“As the SEC noted, Rappler breached this constitutional limit when it allowed Omidyar to exercise control over its corporate affairs as provided for in their internal agreement, in exchange for a fund infusion of US$ 1 million dollars,” Gutierrez noted.

Omidyar Network Fund LLC, a fund created by eBay founder and entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, is one of the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) holders of Rappler.

The SEC, in a decision dated Jan. 11, 2018 posted on its website and emailed to reporters, revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corp. for supposedly violating the foreign ownership restrictions on mass media companies.

The NPC said journalists and media entities must not be swayed by the "emotion of the moment" or the prevailing general sentiment to avoid accusations of inconsistency.

“Responsible journalism also means complying with the law,” Gutierrez said. “By way of policing our ranks and as part of our continuing reform drive, the NPC has long ago made it a policy that those applying for membership should represent not only credible, but also, legally established media entities."

Congress representatives, senators, and Vice President Leni Robredo expressed concerns over press freedom brought on by the SEC decision.

Meanwhile, media organizations such as the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) cried foul.

Advocacy groups including the Human Rights Watch (HRW), CenterLaw or Center for International Law, and Amnesty International slammed the decision as a threat to free press in the Philippines and noted Rappler's criticism of the government's campaign against illegal drugs.

Rappler said it would contest the SEC decision while Solicitor General Jose Calida said he will defend the ruling if necessary. — BAP, GMA News