There is a classic British political comedy show called Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. One sketch from that show for me seems to be a nice introduction to this post. In that sketch called who reads the press the three protagonists try to answer the question who in Great Britain reads what, (I have taken the liberty of making it into a question form below.)
Who reads the papers?
A is read by those who run the Government
B is read by those who think they run the Government
C is read by those who think they should run the Government
D is read by those who own the Government
D is read by those who expects to see boobs and asses
This oh so true in the hyper-partisan media and social media landscape of the Philippines. So it comes to no surprise that there are different narratives or contextualized stories being spun around from all the sides.
The first narrative contends that SEC revocation of Rappler’s corporate entities due to its actions to skirt around its funding, ownership and control of its company by foreigners is a suppression of the freedom of the press. It has also been alluded to that the proceedings against the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer over a stretch of land in Makati is an attempt to curtail the freedom of the press. Also a number media companies’ franchises (like Radio Veritas and ABS-CBN) are up for renewal in Congress and it is feared it will not be renewed.
On the other hand there is a second narrative that contends there is no suppression Press Freedom. Closely parallel to this is the third narrative that believes and perceives that mainstream media is biased and hyper-partisan. This belief of a biased mainstream media is closely followed by the perception that same media is controlled by the elite and are just agents pursuing a political agenda against the President. In such narratives the government through its different and independent agencies are implementing the law.
Now between these three main narratives is press freedom truly being killed in the Philippines?
Consider the following:
First, A reading of SEC decision clearly shows that Rappler’s two companies violated the rules and regulation on media ownership and control. A reading of the statements from Rappler and its supporters have shifted from a Duterte influenced decision to close Rappler to a heavy handed application of the law. The fate of Rappler’s corporate existence is now in the hands of the lawyers, regulators and the courts.
Second, Media companies that are said to have been under attack are still operating. The Philippine Daily Inquirer which was sold is still operating and its opinions have not change. Also, The media company ABS-CBN still operates and is still critical when it needs to be. Most surely Rappler after it has overcome its present problem will still operate.
Third, Criticisms and exchanges have not yet stopped online and offline.
Fourth, Rallies are not prohibited and nor are they crushed.
Fifth, There are no mass arrests of journalists or opposition personalities.
Sixth, Those personalities arrested were arrested not for criticizing government but for violating the criminal laws.
Seventh, Others have conjectured that there is a political hand in these true but it lies in the realm of conjecture.
If you compare the activities of freedom of expression and press freedom with the Duterte Government to the Aquino Government and to all the post-Edsa government everything is the still the same.
To me it seems that Rappler was penalized not because of its journalistic practice but because of its corporate and financing practice. Whatever opinion one has of Rappler one thing is clear it — Rappler —only has itself to blame for the quicksand it is standing on now.