No One is Above the Law

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Responsible journalism is not being repressed nor is it being oppressed. However, we have to be able to follow the laws of the land. No one is above the law.

This perhaps is the gist of the statement issued by the President of the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an order finding against online news site Rappler.com for violating provisions of ownership as provided by the Philippine constitution. For those of you who still do not know, the Constitution strictly stipulates that ownership of companies involved in mass media should have to be Filipino and control should be vested upon the local entity itself and not the foreign entity.

The SEC contends that with the entry of foreign investors in Rappler, Inc. specifically, Omidyar Network Fund LLC that the ownership issue has been compromised – skewed towards the foreign entity. Furthermore, SEC contends that Rappler, Inc. now has given editorial control over to the representatives of Omidyar – something that is really frowned upon and the SEC would not stand for.

NPC President Paul M. Gutierrez reiterated that under no circumstances should Rappler have given over corporate control over to Omidyar stating that it inherently violated the spirit of the law – control being a concept which ensures that companies would have independence in corporate matters and not only in terms of ownership. Gutierrez stated that based on the internal arrangement between the entities, Rappler ceded corporate control to Omidyar in return for an infusion of USD 1 million.

Furthermore, Gutierrez said that the NPC waited for the entirety of the release of the SEC findings so that it can totally examine the content of the decision. Finding the decision sufficient in form and not wanting to appear to add fire to the issue, the NPC slightly delayed issuing its statement, not wanting to be swayed by the prevailing emotional outburst created by the decision.

Gutierrez stated that responsible journalism is not being repressed, reiterating that of the thousands of media outlets and entities operating in the country – which includes 436 television broadcast stations, 411 AM stations and over 1000 FM stations and the unknown number proliferating in social media networks (podcasts, new sites, etc), Rappler is not being singled out. The technicality of the violation had been found out and thus the proper sanctions based on the existing legislation had to be meted out.

According to Gutierrez, the NPC has been taking a stand and policing its ranks to ensure that its members are going to be legally established so that it would not be thought of being inconsistent. He further stated that the decision against Rappler does not necessarily mean that responsible and credible journalism is being repressed. What is important is that the law of the land should not be violated and trampled upon – and Rappler, unwittingly or not, made the mistake of ignoring the spirit of the law when it allowed foreign investors to have corporate control over its operations.

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