The ICJ today expressed concern about the impacts on freedom of expression of a decision by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would shut down Rappler, an online news source in the Philippines.
On 11 January, after a year-long investigation, the SEC of the Philippines revoked the Certificate of Incorporation of Rappler, Inc.
The ICJ is concerned that the decision to target Rappler may have been retaliatory and politically motivated.
The investigation was initiated by a letter transmitted by the Solicitor General to the SEC requesting the latter to investigate allegations of foreign ownership of Rappler, Inc.
“The cancellation of the Certificate of Incorporation of Rappler, Inc. constitutes a significant restriction on freedom of expression,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser.
“The Courts must give rigorous scrutiny both to the specific basis the authorities offer for the decision concerning Rappler, Inc., and the scope and application of the foreign equity provision more generally, including an inquiry whether the law is being applied in a proportionate and non-discriminatory manner,” she added.
If such restrictions on freedom of expression are enforced with the actual aim of punishing or preventing critical political expression, or are enforced only against some political or other opinions and not others, this would violate the rights to freedom of expression and non-discrimination under the Philippine Constitution and international human rights law, the ICJ adds.
Further, under international human rights law any restriction on freedom of expression must be limited to what is necessary and proportionate both in relation to the legitimate aim it pursues and in relation to its impacts.
For instance, it would not be consistent with international human rights law to prohibit all foreign ownership of mass media or mass-media-owning entities, unless the government was able to demonstrate that the same legitimate aim could not reasonably be achieved by prohibiting only majority foreign ownership.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +662 619 8477 (ext. 206) ; e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Philippines-Rappler-News-Web stories-2018-ENG (Full text in PDF)