UN experts urge PH to preserve free media

Published January 26, 2018, 8:44 AM

by Patrick Garcia

By Reuters

UN human rights experts called on the Philippine government on Thursday to allow independent news website Rappler to operate, voicing concern at rising rhetoric against voices critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.

UNWELCOME – The presence of UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard at a forum on drugs issues at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City does not sit well with the Philippine government. Callamard has repeatedly spoken out against the rash of ‘extra-judicial killings’ in the country. (Jay Ganzon | Manila Bulletin)
UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard. (Jay Ganzon | Manila Bulletin)

The country’s Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s license on Jan 11 for ownership violations. Maria Ressa, chief of Rappler, met state investigators on Monday to answer what she called a suspicious complaint about a 2012 story.

“We are gravely concerned that the government is moving to revoke Rappler’s license,” three UN human rights experts said in a joint statement. “We are especially concerned that this move against Rappler comes at a time of rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country.”

The Philippines authorities deny Rappler is being punished, but say it broke the law in 2015 by granting American investor Omidyar Network the means to exercise control over the news site, or veto powers on company decisions.

Rappler, which continues to operate normally pending an appeal denies it broke the law.

”Rappler’s work rests on its own freedom to impart information, and more importantly its vast readership to have access to its public interest reporting,” the UN experts said.

There was no basis under international human rights law to block Rappler from operating, they said: “Rappler and other independent outlets need particular protection because of the essential role they play in ensuring robust public debate.”

Diplomats at the Philippines mission in Geneva were not immediately available to comment on the statement, which was issued by David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, and Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.