Rappler CEO convicted of cyber libel charge . . .
Maria Ressa, CEO of the Philippine news network Rappler, was convicted today of cyber libel charges in a high-profile case critical to the fate of press freedom in the country. Ressa, along with former Rappler writer Reynaldo Santos Jr., was accused of cyber libel by businessman Wilfred Keng. The latter disputed a 2012 article the two wrote, which connected Keng to illegal activities, including human trafficking and drug smuggling. Ressa and Santos Jr. were each given a six-year jail term and required to pay “moral and exemplary damages.” Rappler argued that the verdict “sets a dangerous precedent not only for journalists but for everyone[’s freedom of expression] online.”
Retroactive application of 2012 cybersecurity law . . .
Ressa and Santos Jr. were charged under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which became law four months after their article was published. Keng, meanwhile, did not file his first libel complaint until 2017. Typically, under the Revised Penal Code, a libel charge must be filed within one year of its occurrence. To address the complications specific to this case, the Department of Justice ruled to extend the libel prescription period from one year to 12 years in February 2019. Today’s ruling also pointed to a correction that Ressa and Santos Jr. made to their article in 2014, arguing that the article was republished, making it eligible to be tried under the 2012 law. This conviction is the first among multiple cases lodged against Rappler since the beginning of President Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in 2016.
Declining press freedom . . .
Ressa and Santos Jr.’s convictions are the most recent in a series of events highlighting a rollback of press freedom in the Philippines. Last month, ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcasting network, was forced off the air by a cease-and-desist order after being denied a renewal of its franchise. Also, radio journalist Cornelio Pepino was gunned down in Negros Oriental province by two unknown hitmen following his coverage of corruption, bribery, and illegal mining in the region. Reporters Without Borders currently ranks the Philippines 136th out of 180 countries on its World Press Freedom Index.