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Philippine government orders closure of news site amid concerns over loss of press freedoms

Rappler, a digital pioneer in the Philippine media scene, won international awards for his critical and unwavering look at President Rodrigo Duterte's lethal drug war.

Now the independent news site tries to stay alive. [19659002ThePhilippineauthoritiesorderedtheclosureofRapplerefrainingtheright-winggroupsofthemediaandgeneratinguncertaintiesaboutthefreedomofpressfreedominthreedecades'democracy

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Rappler used a "deceptive scheme" to violate constitutional rules that require media companies to be wholly owned by Filipinos. The publication denied the claim and promised to appeal.

This decision comes amid a broader questioning of the role of the press in society and its continued independence. The largest opposition newspaper in Hungary closed suddenly in 2016 under accusations of government pressure. Cambodia closed its independent newspaper in English last year, with the headline in his last article warning "Descent in the direct dictatorship".

President Trump regularly points to unfavorable reports as "false news" and has promised "dishonest and corrupt media of the year" awards this week. But the case of the Philippines is of particular concern to rights advocates, who fear it will be one more step towards strong men's rule.

"The Commission orders us to close the store, stop telling stories, stop telling the truth to power and let go of everything we have created, and created, with you since 2012," said the popular media outlet in a note on Monday to his readers.

The SEC did not demand that Rappler close immediately, and the orange-bordered website continued to operate on Tuesday with its own future presented as the main story.

Regulators claim that Rappler broke the rules in his relationship with Omidyar Network, based in Redwood City, California, a philanthropic investment company founded by EBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

recognized its two foreign investors: Omidyar and North Base Media, a firm that focuses on media companies in emerging markets. But the new site insists that the investments went through the so-called deposit receipts that allow the Philippine companies to access international funds without transferring ownership.

"This is pure and simple harassment," the statement said in its note.

Harry Roque, the president's spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that Duterte had nothing to do with the commission order of five people. It was done "by individuals who were not their designated," said Roque. "He could not control most of the commissioners."

Other media companies also use deposit receipts. But regulators point to a clause in the agreement between Rappel and Omidyar that they say could allow the California company to interfere with administrative decisions.

Omidyar described the ruling as "an unfortunate interpretation" and denied any property on the news site.

North Base Media also questioned the order. "Revoke of a company license to operate on a contractual clause that the SEC could have ordered change seems both extreme and political," said Marcus Brauchli, co-founder of the organization and former editor of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. in an email

Not everyone sees the decision through the veil of politics. Rappler is "crying a fault about a legal problem," said Eduardo Araral, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, who tracks contemporary Filipino society. "There are so many media critics against Duterte and he leaves them."

The situation adds to the tensions that Duterte is abandoning the democratic principles of his predecessor by a closer approach to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who silenced newspapers and imprisoned opponents.

Police arrested one of Duterte's toughest critics last year on drug charges and his vice president has accused him of nullifying dissent. Duterte extended martial law in the south of the country in December, despite the doubts of lawmakers. His anti-drug campaign has left at least 7,000 people dead.

The president repeatedly attacks the media for his coverage, including using his address from the state of the nation last year to accuse Rappler of being the sole owner of the United States.

"My bet is if Rappler had not been so critical of the government … this case would not have happened," said Malcolm Cook, senior researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, which studies the Philippines.

Filipino journalists, lawmakers and international rights organizations responded quickly with anger and fear.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros described the decision of "Marcosian" on Twitter and "a movement directly from the dictator's trial book."

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the order as a "direct attack on press freedom." The Association of Foreign Correspondents. The Philippines said it was "equivalent to killing the online news site."

Rappler, whose name comes from the jargon "rap", to debate and "ripple", to make waves, plans to try his luck in court.

"We will continue to bring you the news, making the powerful accountable for their actions and decisions, calling attention to the failings of the government that empower even the most disadvantaged," the paper said in its note. "We will hold the line."

Meyers is a special correspondent.

Twitter: @jessicameyers

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