The National Press Club of the Philippines, the largest and oldest group of press clubs in the country, on Thursday acknowledged that the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on a cyber libel case after office hours earlier in the week was an inconvenience for her — she could not post bail until the next day — and “smacks of bad taste.”*
It asserted though, that the arrest was not an attack on press freedom or a form of political harassment. “Ms. Ressa’s experience has been the experience of many in the media profession. It can be a great ‘inconvenience’ but, not something that should relegate someone to the altar of press freedom for ‘martyrdom’,” it says in a press statement.
“The NPC maintains that to inject something that is not there and thus politicize a strictly judicial process involving a legal dispute between two private parties—the private complainant on the one hand and, Rappler, a private media outfit, on the other—does not, and will not, serve the end of justice, which was the aim of the complaint to begin with.”
That is in stark contrast to the position held by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, of which I am a member and that calls the arrest as well as other cases against Rappler and Ressa as “part of the administration’s obsession to shut Rappler down and intimidate the rest of the independent Philippine media into toeing the lines.”
It is clear, NUJP says, “that the Department of Justice perverted the law by charging Maria for an offense allegedly committed before it actually became an offense under the law.”
I am hesitant to call out those who have been in the business long before me** but two things are clear to me: a line has been drawn–maybe that line has always been there and this issue only brought it to the fore–and where we stand now will help define how we do our jobs moving forward.
I have instead compiled a list of resources to help us decide either way. For brevity, the initial list includes only resources I have personally read and that are from within the community.
FAQs: What you need to know about Rappler’s cyber libel case (Rappler)
A look at the cyber libel charge vs Rappler, Maria Ressa (Philstar.com)
EXPLAINER: Why is the Philippine government accused of going after media? (ABS-CBN)
Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te, now back to teaching Law at the University of the Philippines, discusses the Department of Justice’s theory of “continuing publication” in the cyber libel case (Puma Podcast)
That would be an implication, that there would be virtually no prescriptive period for libel, or cyber libel
STATEMENT of Mr. Wilfredo D. Keng on the Cybercrime of Libel criminal case filed against Reynaldo Santos, Jr., and Maria Angelita Ressa, of Rappler, Inc. (via MindaNews)
“Rappler, Ressa and [Reynaldo Jr.] Santos continue to hold themselves high above any accountability to provide credible and justifiable reason for why they continue to harass an ordinary private citizen and businessman despite having absolutely no basis for their claims. What is their motive? With one click of a button, they destroyed my reputation and endangered my life.”
Rappler statement on Maria Ressa’s arrest
This is a dangerous precedent that puts anyone – not just the media – who publishes anything online perennially in danger of being charged with libel. It can be an effective tool of harassment and intimidation to silence critical reporting on the part of the media. No one is safe.
Maria Ressa was accused of cyber libel allegedly because she was the editor of the story that was published. She was not.
Press freedom ‘alive and well’ in PH: PCOO chief (PNA)***
“The impulsive conclusion that their non-exemption from the judicial process constitutes a blanket attack on press freedom in the Philippines is a blatant disregard for the earnest efforts of the very stakeholders to come up with programs aimed at safeguarding it”
National Press Club
“To politicize a legal recourse available to everyone who feels aggrieved by the media with the objective of soliciting sympathy from a public largely ignorant of the details of the dispute that gave rise to the complaint is not only to twist the facts of the case.”
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
“This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought.”
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
“An attack on the freedom of one journalist or one news organization weakens the capacity of the entire institution to report the truth and is an attack on all of us and on democracy itself.”
Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation
“This is state harassment of a crucial news source, one that has reported deeply on the extrajudicial killings caused by an extremely violent campaign against illegal drugs, provided incontrovertible proof of organized disinformation in the digital space, and fact-checked dubious pro-administration claims on Facebook.”
Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (via MindaNews)
We in FOCAP will always stand against any move, explicit or otherwise, that is designed to undermine the freedoms that are a lifeline to truly free, relevant and courageous journalism.
We will continue to hold those in power led by President Rodrigo Duterte or any other leader and their administrations accountable every time we need to.
Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines
That the Duterte administration chose to selectively apply the law to a media outfit that has been critical of its governance is an indication of the lengths it will go to silence criticism.
First they came for the journalists (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
“Targeting journalists is tick box No. 1 in the authoritarian playbook, as the German philosopher Hannah Arendt warned in 1974: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?”
Seares: Why some journalists don’t get riled over arrest of Rappler’s Maria Ressa (Sun.Star)
“Ressa and Rappler are not without critics among journalists who were hurt by its stories, turned off by its manner of reporting, envied the recognition heaped on her by much of the rest of the world, or just didn’t like the way Ressa looks or speaks.
And there are those, of course, who clash with her views on government conduct, anti-Ressa sentiment genuinely driven or induced by fear or favor.”
Ressa spits on our laws and on the truth, and then invokes press freedom (Manila Times)
This cyberlibel case isn’t the first time that Ressa and Rappler have spat on our laws, and when called to account, claimed that press freedom is being suppressed in the Philippines.
The National Press Club’s strange notion of justice (Inday Espina-Varona on Medium)
When the NPC equates defense of press freedom to conferring colleagues the status of martyr, it isn’t shaming colleagues and other advocates. It is shaming itself.
This list will be updated, but likely not regularly
*Like, I imagine, showing up at a wedding in jeans and boots or taking the last piece of chicken at a working lunch.
** In truth, I’m a “pay your dues” kind of guy and believe I am still paying those dues. Also, I would have drowned in my first years in news if not for older journalists, many of whom are from the National Press Club, who helped me along the way.
*** Technically a news report, but from a statement