U.N. experts urge Philippines to preserve free media

January 26, 2018 - 10:54 AM

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

The country’s Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s license on January 11 for supposedly violating a constitutional prohibition against foreign ownership of media. 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,” the U.N. 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.”

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

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 U.N. experts said.

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