President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in an interview on the sidelines of the inauguration of the new Communications, Navigation, Surveillance / Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) Systems Development Project at the Philippine Air Traffic Management Center (PATMC) in Pasay City on January 16, 2018, insists that the closure of the online news site Rappler was not an attack on press freedom but rather a matter of upholding the Constitution. Simeon Celi Jr./Presidential Photo
In separate editorials, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal denounced the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday to cancel Rappler’s license following its supposed infringement into the Philippine Constitution’s prohibition on foreign ownership of local media.
According to the Times, Rappler’s shutdown order was just the “tip” of Duterte’s assault on his media critics, pointing to the deluge of fake news, conspiracy theories and online harassment in the Philippines.
The Times said that Duterte’s denial of complicity in the SEC order was predictable just as his refusal to condemn the proliferation of fake news and denied his involvement in their creation.
“Even among that cast of illiberal leaders who rouse mobs with their ruthless policies and disdain for democratic protections, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines stands out for his viciousness,” the New York newspaper said in its editorial.
“Exposing such brazen abuse of power is a hallowed mission of a free press, so it should come as no surprise that authoritarians like Mr. Duterte usually go after independent media,” it said.
WSJ meanwhile labeled the decision as the latest in a series of actions by the president that undermined democracy and accused the hot-tempered Philippine leader of using the playbook of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to silence media critics and punish political foes.
“Mr. Duterte’s praise for late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and alliance with the Marcos family are clues to his intent,” the business paper said. “The misuse of government power to silence media critics and punish political foes is straight out of the Marcos playbook.”
The newspaper warned Filipinos against losing their democracy in the process of looking for a stronger government.
Both newspapers noted the general attack of Duterte’s administration on the media, using the president’s attack on the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and television station ABS-CBN as an example.
“The government is using even cruder measures against its elected critics,” WSJ said, using the drug-related cases against Sen. Leila De Lima and the threat of impeachment on Vice President Leni Robredo in 2017.
The Times urged Rappler to hold the line and continue fighting as it contested the SEC’s order.
Rappler’s shutdown order came months after Duterte, in a speech before a joint session of Congress, claimed that the news organization was foreign owned, which it vehemently disputed.
The president also accused last year ABS-CBN and the Inquirer of unfair reporting and bias in their coverage. He accused the television network of pocketing his money during 2016 elections without airing his campaign advertisement and the owners of the paper of non-payment of taxes and holding on to a piece of government land beyond the terms of its contract.
January 17, 2018 – 8:08pm
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