Global media groups have backed independent Philippines website Rappler at WAN-Ifra's 70th World News Media Congress in Portugal.
Meeting in Estoril, the group's board called on Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte to stop attacking the news site, backing its founder Maria Resser with its coveted Golden Pen of Freedom award.
Duterte was urged to do more to discourage supporters from threatening the safety and security of Rappler's journalists, both online and off. A number of open investigations and pending court decisions "place an inordinate amount of pressure on Rappler, its staff and management," says the WAN-Ifra board.
At the beginning of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the license of Rappler Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corporation, claiming foreign ownership in violation of the Philippines constitution. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has initiated an investigation into Rappler's supposed violation of the Anti-Dummy Law. The National Bureau of Investigation is also pursuing a cyber libel complaint, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue has filed a tax evasion case versus Rappler Holdings Corp. Rappler vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
WAN-Ifra's board says the judicial proceedings come on the back of a "sustained, highly targetted and seemingly orchestrated campaign of online abuse directed at Rappler, its staff, and in particular co-founder, chief executive and executive editor Maria Ressa". It denounced attacks against journalists, "in whatever form they come online and off," and called on the government of the Philippines to do more "to discourage the harassment of journalists - particularly in the online space." It condemned the gender-based abuse of Maria Ressa and called on the authorities "to make clear their condemnation of all forms of sexual harassment and demonstrate a clear commitment to doing more to eradicate it from society."
The board also urged president Duterte to lift the ban on Rappler correspondents reporting from the presidential palace and official events, and "to embrace a vocal, critical media as a necessary ingredient of a democratic, pluralistic society."
The message is reinforced with the award of the annual Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Maria Ressa recognising her "unwavering commitment to the values of a free press, as well as her determination to continue exposing stories of vital importance for democracy in the Philippines amidst intense pressure from the government and its supporters".
"We honour a genuinely courageous journalist, a dedicated media pioneer, and a true believer in the power that the craft of journalism can have," said president of the World Editors Forum Dave Callaway.
Maria Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for more than 30 years, with a career spanning various media. As the bureau chief for CNN in Manila and Jakarta for nearly two decades she was a senior investigative reporter on terrorism in southeast Asia. In 2005, she headed up the news and current affairs division of Philippines media company ABS-CBN, where for six years she worked to redefine journalism by combining traditional and innovative media models.
The citation notes that her interest and talents in technology and new media were an impetus for her becoming one of the founders of Rappler, a social news network which aimed to inspire community engagement and fuel social change. "It became one of the first websites in the Philippines to use online multimedia such as video, text, audio and photos, incorporating social media sites for distribution.
"Since the website launched in 2012, it has not only successfully brought people together, but has also become the target of growing hostility and attacks from the government and its supporters for coverage of topics considered sensitive by President Duterte's administration; from questioning the government's handling of the drugs war and exposing police brutality, to human rights abuses and abuses of power.
"We hope the Golden Pen deters those who seek to undermine media independence and the profession of journalism by showing the solidarity that the award represents," said Callaway. "When all else fails, we should know that we have each other to rely upon if we are to continue making the kind of impact, breaking the sort of stories, and shining our light into those dark corners in a way our communities have come to expect. The way Rappler has been doing, and will keep on doing."
Four other press freedom resolutions were passed in Estoril, calling for global solidarity for media facing extreme challenges in Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, and for greater efforts to improve physical safety and digital security for journalists worldwide.
The resolutions can be read at:
WAN-Ifra board resolution Mexico
WAN-Ifra board resolution Nigeria
WAN-Ifra board resolution Pakistan
WAN-Ifra board resolution safety of journalists
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