No attempt to suppress press freedom, insists Philippine government

Students of the University of the Philippines participate in a protest to defend press freedom in Manila on Jan. 16, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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No attempt to suppress press freedom, insists Philippine government

MANILA: The Philippine government on Tuesday denied that a decision to revoke the business registration of online news site Rappler was to suppress media freedom in the country.
Several media and human rights groups, as well as senators, lambasted the decision, calling it an “assault against democracy.”
Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, insists that the decision was politically motivated.
“It’s clear, it’s harassment and it has an end goal,” she said. Despite the order, Ressa said “it’s business as usual” for Rappler and that they will continue to report news.
“You can look at the decision itself and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) itself has said that the investigation was triggered by the government itself. So look at the actions, words are cheap,” she added.
In a press briefing on Tuesday in Malacanang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. decried Rappler’s claim that the SEC decision to revoke its certificate of incorporation over constitutional violations was an attack on press freedom.
Roque gave his assurance that Rappler reporters would not be prevented from exercising their duty as journalists in the light of the SEC decision.
“The truth is, the reporter of Rappler is still in our press briefing. She is not being prevented from exercising her profession as a journalist. None of the individuals behind Rappler will be prevented from performing their duties as journalists,” he said.
But Ressa told Arab News: “I respect Malacanang’s opinion, it’s his opinion, but we look at actions. And if you look at actions it’s very clear how this is politically motivated.”
Ressa said the government has long targeted Rappler, as she cited remarks made by President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year.
In his second SONA last July, Duterte launched a scathing attack on media organizations critical of his administration. It was also then that the President said Rappler is foreign-owned.
After that, Ressa said, SEC decided to form a special panel to conduct a formal, in-depth examination of Rappler Inc. for possible violations of nationality restrictions on ownership and/or control of mass media entities.
Ressa further noted that not only was the SEC decision rushed, but it also imposed severe sanctions on Rappler.
“The other part is the severity of the penalty,” she said, citing a previous case of a telecommunications company whose ownership was also looked into by the commission. Apart from being given a year to fix the problem, Ressa said: “Certainly nothing was canceled, no investment was canceled and no licenses were revoked.
“So for me that alone, the severity of the penalty, shows you a political thread.”
The spokesperson of Malacanang said that the SEC decision was based on its own findings that Rappler, Inc. and Rappler Holdings Corporation violated the constitutional provision of limiting the ownership of media entities to Filipinos.
Citing the SEC decision, Roque said the news organization issued Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs) in favor of foreign investors.
“You see here an instance where although they are not shareholders, nonetheless, the holders of the PDRs are given the same right to control the company in terms of amending the articles and bylaws,” he explained, adding that the move was a circumvention of the prohibition set by the Constitution.
Roque added that although the state should not in any way suppress press freedom, it should also not exempt anyone, media outlets included, from complying with the country’s laws.
“Particularly when you’re talking of a media outfit in the exercise of public trust criticizing government officials for violating the Constitution and the laws of the land, I would hope that they would be first and foremost compliant with all constitutional and legal requirements themselves,” Roque said of Rappler.
Ressa said: “For me it is business as usual. This is what I told our reporters. We continue asking the tough questions, we continue holding the line.”
She admitted, however, that the decision was enough reason for journalists in the country to be alarmed.


Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

Updated 8 min 37 sec ago
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Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

  • Popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads
  • Buber will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019

KABUL: Booking a ride that picks you up from your doorstep has been a dream for many Afghans for a long time. The dream is now coming true. After the popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads, a private national firm came up with a local solution: Buber.
Currently on its test run, the service will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019.
Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Buber driver, says the initiative in a congested city where violence and criminal activities have been part of daily life for years, is a relief for both clients and drivers.
“It is very convenient for both sides, the customer does not need to walk to a street, wait for taxi in cold or hot weather and bargain with a taxi he or she does not know,” Dawlatzai told Arab News. “We go to their homes and drop them at their favored destination, which saves both sides time and hassle.”
He has been with Buber for two months and has taken around employees of Afghanistan’s Holding Group (AHG) that owns Buber, which in Dari means “Take me”.
AHG’s headquarters near the ancient Darul-Aman palace is tucked away behind blast walls with a sprawling compound that enjoys far better security measures than many state institutions which are the targets of routine attacks by militants in Afghanistan.
The security precautions at AHG include a series of body searches by armed guards as well as scanners and the layers of checks that make it look as if the compound is in top-secret location.
There is a different world and mood inside, and for a moment you may think that this is not Afghanistan, given the pace of its work and manner of efficiency. Groups of young sleek men and women are busy typing away on computers or discussing their regular daily activities.
AHG hopes to gallop and make Afghanistan catch up with the revolution in the field of technology that has spread across the globe in recent years.
Staff at AHG say that since its launch in 2009 the company has provided professional business services to more than 700 organizations across Afghanistan. Its clients range from small companies, non-profits and corporations to development institutions and government customers. It offers a range of services that include legal and human resources support and assistance with licensing, visas, payroll, taxation, audit and procurement.
Now, AHG is working on its new innovation, Afghanistan Technology Services (ATS), which covers Hisab (accounting) and Buber, online taxi ordering similar to Uber.
The Hisab application allows customers to pay online power and water bills and order goods for home delivery, as well as paying for Buber.
The online car ordering has been operating in Afghanistan for several years, but business is tailing off for the other two firms, which according to officials had not managed to develop an advanced application.
“Technology is taking over each and every thing across the world, we do not want to be behind those guys and we would like to reach somewhere and rebuild Afghanistan. This is our mission, to rebuild Afghanistan,” said Zaheeruddin Naeabkhail, Buber’s senior manager.
Until its launch in January Buber is on a test run to make sure that the application works smoothly. It has enlisted 500 vehicles, with Kabul being the immediate target, and with the intention to expand to other major cities later.
Not many will be able to afford the Buber service: Smart phone owners and literate people are its target.
Even the drivers will have to be literate.
In a country where there is no fixed rate for taxis and customers usually bargain, Buber will have fixed prices and can come to a customer’s desired address for pick up.
In a country riven by violence and crimes, such as abductions, Buber can offer peace of mind to clients as it has a tracking mechanism which clients can share with anyone they want to for their safety, AHG officials said.
“The problem for now in the market is the security concern. We have this facility for the user as well as the driver that allows them to be able to track users through our GPS,” Naeabkhail said.
Drivers will be registered with full details for security measures and they can help the police with information if anything happens to a client between pickup and drop-off.
The application can be a great help for the customer to avoid congested areas and routes where there is protest or there has been an attack, officials said, adding this will save time for the client and money for the driver, as well as reducing pollution.
“This application is very challenging application, nobody else has it, it is not easy for others to build it easily. Afghans have developed the application themselves,” Naeabkhail said.
Roadblocks created by officials, some embassies, foreign troops and factional leaders are the key challenges and Buber hopes to address that with the help of Google, he said.
“The main challenge that we face is the map, because Afghanistan is not mapped very well. We would like the support of Google if they are willing to help us … it is like general support for the public at large and also for any company that comes later and invests.”