US & CANADA, U.N.-NEW YORK: MEDIA – PH must protect, promote ‘independent media’ – UN rapporteurs

United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard. INQUIRER file photo
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RIGHTS EXPERTS EXPRESS ‘GRAVE CONCERN’ OVER MOVES TO SHUT DOWN RAPPLER

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Three United Nations (UN) experts have expressed serious alarm over efforts to shut down news website Rappler, and urged the Philippine government to halt its move to close the media outfit.

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The three UN special rapporteurs – Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – said there was no basis under the human rights law to block Rappler and other independent media outfits from reporting.

“We are gravely concerned that the government is moving to revoke Rappler’s license,” the experts said in a joint statement issued on Thursday.

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“We are especially concerned that this move against Rappler comes at a time of rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country.”

“We urge the government to return to its path of protection and promotion of independent media, especially those covering issues in the public interest,” they added.

In a decision dated January 11, the SEC ordered the revocation of Rappler Inc.’s certificate of incorporation for violating the restriction on foreign ownership of local media, the anti-dummy law, the corporation code, and the Securities Regulation Code.

The SEC declared “void” the Philippine depositary receipts (PDRs) issued by Rappler Holdings to Omidyar Network Fund LLC, a fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, claiming this was a “fraudulent” transaction under the Securities Regulation Code.

The experts said SEC’s move was “at odds” with its past approach to foreign support of local or national media, “given that philanthropic contributions do not amount to foreign ownership.”

They maintained that the news outfit’s work “rests on its own freedom to impart information” and more importantly, its audience “to have access to its public interest reporting.”

“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,” they noted.

The SEC order drew wide criticisms from journalist groups, saying the move was an attack against press freedom. Centerlaw, the former law firm of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, said that SEC decision was unconstitutional for denying Rappler due process and was a form of prior restraint.

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The SEC ruling likewise prompted journalists and media groups to stage a rally dubbed as Black Friday protest in Quezon City. Media groups pointed out that the SEC order was just part of the series of attacks against the press and press freedom.

Meanwhile, the Catholic News Agency, a group of at least 50 Catholic radio stations nationwide, is in danger of being shut down as its license remains to gather dust at the House of Representatives, which moved to amend the Constitutional provision on free expression last week.                       /kga

COURTESY:
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Jhoanna Ballaran-Reporter
09:08 AM January 26, 2018
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