Some Filipinos think ‘biased’ news site Rappler should be shut down

Dennis, a motorbike taxi driver in Manila, said he didn’t know who Nobel laureate Maria Ressa was, but he knew Rappler, a popular news site the award-winning journalist co-founded in the Philippines .

“They are too biased and their news is all negative. They don’t report well or fairly,” Dennis, who asked to be identified only by his first name, told VOA.

Two days before President Rodrigo Duterte resigned, Rappler was hit with a shutdown order from the Philippine government for allegedly breaking foreign ownership rules. The news portal had angered Duterte for its critical coverage of alleged human rights abuses and corruption during his administration.

The latest blow to press freedom came from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which upheld its earlier ruling ordering the revocation of Rappler’s business records.

Ressa’s bold newsroom has received praise and support from journalists and human rights organizations around the world. It also propelled her to be the first Filipina to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Little home support

But at home, Rappler receives little support from Filipinos as journalists and fact-checkers become increasingly vulnerable to attack from government and political actors.

“They should report what they see, not what has already been changed. I think that’s why they were closed. They deserve to be shut down because they don’t report accurately and fairly,” Dennis added.

For Hanna – a street vendor who said she follows independent media, government pages and vloggers on social media – government channels are the best source of news and information. She said she considered Rappler and legacy news outlets to be overly critical.

“I noticed that Rappler always attacks the administration. That’s why they were closed. If Rappler doesn’t want to be shut down, they should stop attacking the government,” she told VOA.

FILE – Rappler CEO and Editor-in-Chief Maria Ressa reacts during an interview in the city of Taguig, Philippines October 9, 2021.

Unlike many other Filipinos, Hanna said she believes Rappler should be allowed to operate – as long as reporters are careful with their words.

“Just don’t push too hard and hit government officials directly,” she said when asked how Rappler should handle the shutdown order.

For Elle, a high school student, the attacks on press freedom and independent media in the Philippines are having a chilling effect.

“Since the previous administration, people are afraid to speak out. They think the government is a sacred cow, because if you are against the government, they call you communists or terrorists,” she told VOA, adding that Rappler should stay to inform Filipinos.

Rappler plans to fight

Lian Buan, Rappler’s court reporter, received information about the order before the media’s lawyers.

“This happened at the height of our preparations for the inauguration of the new president, President Bongbong Marcos. So we were actually surprised, because we thought … the Duterte administration was over,” Buan told VOA.

Rappler executives said business was business as usual for them and they would fight the shutdown order all the way to the Supreme Court. The site’s lawyers are camping in the newsroom, waiting for the execution of the shutdown order.

“Our goal is to continue to hold the line; you’ve heard me say that forever. We’re not going to voluntarily give up our rights, and we really shouldn’t. I continued to appeal for this,” Ressa told reporters at a press briefing last week, “because when you give up your rights, you will never get them back.”

Most Filipino journalists are bracing for a tough time under the new president, who has shunned debates, interviews and opportunities for him to be questioned on critical issues. His campaign relied on tightly controlled storytelling and imagery through press releases and vlogs.

“If President Marcos’ campaign is any indication, and I think it’s a big indication of how the press would be treated, then we have a tough road ahead of us,” said Buan, who also covered the campaign. from Marcos.

The positive development of the Philippine media ecosystem, Mr. Buan said, is the solidarity between journalists and media institutions.

“Many of my colleagues have now realized that it’s now or never. It’s time to stick together,” she said.