Philippine news site critical of Duterte loses court appeal

FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2018, file photo, Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa gestures during an interview at their office in metropolitan Manila, Philippines. The Court of Appeals has upheld a decision that the online news site critical of President Rodrigo Duterte violated a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of news media. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine appeals court has upheld a decision that an online news site critical of President Rodrigo Duterte violated a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of news media.

The Court of Appeals said in a decision made public Monday that Rappler Inc. effectively allowed U.S.-based investor Omidyar Network "to participate" in its corporate actions and decisions in violation of the constitution, which requires media companies to be fully owned and managed by Filipinos.

Rappler argued that it did not grant Omidyar the power to control or influence its news operations, but last year, the appeals court backed a Securities and Exchange Commission decision to revoke the site's license.

Media watchdogs have said the move was an act to muzzle the media.

While upholding its ruling against Rappler, the appeals court asked the SEC to reassess its revocation of the news website's operating license after Omidyar donated its holdings in Rappler to some of the site's managers and staff.

"It is incumbent upon the SEC to evaluate the terms and conditions of said alleged supervening donation ... whether the same has the effect of mitigating, if not curing, the violation it found," the court said.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government would not interfere in the case and "will let the law take its course." He said Rappler's case was not a press freedom issue.

Last month, Rappler's chief executive officer and executive editor, Maria Ressa, was arrested but freed on bail over an online libel case.

The move against Ressa, who was one of Time magazine's Persons of the Year last year, was denounced by Rappler and media watchdogs as a threat to press freedom. Duterte's government said the arrest was a normal step in response to a criminal complaint.

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