Filipino journalist critical of Duterte convicted of libel

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Philippine journalist Maria Ressa arrives for her court verdict at the court building in Manila on Monday. (AFP / TED ALJIBE)
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This file photo taken on May 16, 2019 shows Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of the Philippines-based news website Rappler, speaking at the Human Rights Press Awards at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong. (AFP)
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Updated 16 June 2020

Filipino journalist critical of Duterte convicted of libel

  • The story on May 29, 2012, cited an unspecified intelligence report linking businessman Wilfredo Keng to a murder, drug dealing, human trafficking and smuggling
  • Ressa, who Time magazine named as a Person of the Year in 2018, did not write the article and government investigators initially dismissed the businessman's allegation

MANILA, Philippines: An award-winning journalist critical of the Philippine president was convicted of libel and sentenced to jail Monday in a decision called a major blow to press freedom in an Asian bastion of democracy.
The Manila court found Maria Ressa, her online news site Rappler Inc. and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. guilty of libeling a wealthy businessman. The Rappler’s story on May 29, 2012, cited an unspecified intelligence report linking him to a murder, drug dealing, human trafficking and smuggling. The site’s lawyers disputed any malice and said the time limit for filing the libel complaint had passed.
“The decision for me is devastating because it says that Rappler is wrong,” Ressa said in a news conference after the decision was handed down. Her voice cracking, she appealed to journalists and Filipinos to continue fighting for their rights “and hold power to account.
She was sentenced to up to six years but was not immediately taken into custody. Ressa posted bail for the case last year, and her lawyer said they will appeal the verdict.
Businessman Wilfredo Keng dismissed the allegations as baseless and false and said Rappler refused to take down the story online and publish his side of the story. He provided government certifications in court to show that he has no criminal record and sought 50 million pesos ($1 million) in damages, which he said he would donate if he won the case.
Rappler’s lawyers said the story was based on an intelligence report and that the one-year period under Philippine penal law when a libel complaint can be filed had ended when Keng filed a lawsuit in 2017, five years after the story was published online.
A cybercrime law, which Rappler allegedly violated, was also enacted in September 2012 or four months after the story written by Santos was published. Rappler’s lawyers said Philippine penal laws cannot be retroactively applied.
Rappler, however, acknowledged that it updated the story in February 2014 to correct a misspelled word but said it did not make any other changes. The Department of Justice, which brought the libel charges to court, contended that by updating the story, Rappler effectively republished the story online in 2014, an argument dismissed by the news site’s lawyers.
The Department of Justice cited another law to say that a complaint can be filed under the 2012 cybercrime law for up to 12 years, countering Rappler’s argument that Keng’s complaint was invalid due to being outside a one-year deadline for libel.
If the Manila court upholds the Justice Department’s position, journalists and media agencies can be sued up to 12 years after publishing a report.
As Rappler’s chief executive officer, Ressa faces seven other criminal complaints in relation to legal issues hounding her news agency, including an allegation that it violated a constitutional ban on media agencies receiving foreign investment funds.
The moves against Ressa, who has worked for CNN and was one of Time magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2018, have been denounced by media watchdogs as a threat to press freedom. President Rodrigo Duterte’s government said the complaints were part of normal criminal procedures and were not a press freedom issue.
But Ressa has accused the government of abusing its power and of using the law as a weapon to muzzle dissent. Rappler is one of several local and international news agencies deemed critical of Duterte’s policies.
Duterte has openly lambasted journalists who write unfavorable stories about him, including about his anti-drug campaign that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.
Duterte had already banned a Rappler reporter from his news briefings after a government corporate watchdog ruled that the news site violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it received money from an international investment firm.
Rappler, founded in 2012, rejected the ruling.
Duterte has openly lashed out against the owner of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a leading daily.
He has vowed in the past to block the renewal of the congressional franchise of ABS-CBN, which was shut down by the government’s telecommunications regulator last month after its 25-year franchise expired. Congress has been hearing the leading TV network’s request for a renewal of its franchise.

TWITTER POLL: Wearing masks to be a norm even with availability of coronavirus vaccine

Updated 11 July 2020

TWITTER POLL: Wearing masks to be a norm even with availability of coronavirus vaccine

DUBAI: The World Health Organization has advised on the use of medical masks as to limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19.

“Current information suggests that the two main routes of transmission of the COVID-19 virus are respiratory droplets and contact,” the global health body said in its advisory.

Masks can be used either for protection by healthy persons – to protect themselves from transmission – or by infected individuals to prevent onward transmission.



The WHO likewise advised that governments should encourage the wearing of masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, especially that a vaccine for coronavirus has yet to be developed that could offer protection to individuals.

Wearing masks have become a norm that even the availability of a vaccine in the future would not deter almost half of Arab News readers that were polled – at 46.6 percent – compared with those who said they will ditch these protections – at 29 percent – once a coronavirus inoculation goes into market.

Almost a quarter of those that were polled meanwhile said they did not mind either way.

Reader @KaysarRoni said face masks is essential when going to the market, to shop or to pray in the mosques, but would be “harmful for health” when worn all the time.