By Anthony Esguerra

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Dennis, a motorcycle taxi driver in Manila, said he didn’t know who Nobel laureate Maria Ressa was, but he was familiar with Rappler, a popular news website that the award-winning journalist co-founded in the Philippines.

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

Two days before President Rodrigo Duterte stepped down, Rappler was hit with a shutdown order from the Philippine government for supposedly violating 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 affirmed its earlier ruling ordering the revocation of Rappler’s business papers.

Ressa’s bold newsroom has won praise and support from journalists and human rights organizations around the world. It has also catapulted her to being the first Filipino to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Little support at home

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

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

For Hanna — a street vendor who said she followed independent media organizations, government pages, and vloggers on social media — the government channels are the best source of news and information. She said she saw Rappler and legacy news outlets as overly critical.

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

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

“Just don’t attack too much, and don’t directly hit the government officials,” she said when asked how Rappler should deal with the closure order.

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

“Since the past administration, people have become afraid to speak up. They think the government is a sacred cow, because if you’re against the government, they brand you as communists or terrorists,” she told VOA, adding that Rappler should stay to inform Filipinos.

Rappler plans to fight

Lian Buan, Rappler’s justice reporter, received information about the order ahead of the news outlet’s lawyers.

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

Rappler executives said it was business as usual for them, and that they would fight the closure order all the way to the Supreme Court. The website’s lawyers are camping out in the newsroom, awaiting the enforcement of the closure order.

“Our goal is to continue holding 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’ve continued to appeal for that,” Ressa told reporters in a press briefing last week, “because when you give up your rights, you’re never going to get them back.”

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

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

The positive development in the Philippine media ecosystem, Buan said, is the solidarity among journalists and media institutions.

“Many of my colleagues have now realized that it is now or never. This is the time to stand together,” she said.

The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Voice of America.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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