MANILA: Philippine journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa lost her appeal against a conviction for cyber libel, a court announced on Friday, days after authorities ordered her online news site Rappler to shut down.
Ressa and former Rappler journalist Rey Santos Jr. face more than six years in prison in a case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 Rappler article that linked him to illegal activities. Keng filed the complaint in 2017.
In 2020, a regional court in Manila convicted Ressa and Santos — a decision both of them appealed.
The Court of Appeals of the Philippines dismissed their petition saying they “should have been more circumspect in what they published.”
“They are not media practitioners with a lack of social following; their words reverberate,” Associate Justice Roberto O. Quiron said in the court’s ruling shared with the media.
“This case comes at a time when the credibility of journalists is needed more than ever, when their tried-and-tested practice of adhering to their own code of ethics becomes more necessary, so that their truth may provide a stronger bulwark against the recklessness in social media.”
Rappler said in a statement that Ressa and Santos will use all legal remedies, including elevating the decision to the Supreme Court for review.
“While the decision is unfortunate, it is also a good opportunity for the Supreme Court to take a second look at the constitutionality of cyber libel and the continuing criminalization of libel, especially in light of the freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the publication said.
“The decision weakens the ability of journalists to hold power to account. We call on our media colleagues, our community, and other advocates of a free and independent press to be vocal and vigilant now more than ever.”
The ruling comes less than two weeks after the Philippine corporate regulator ordered Rappler to shut down, upholding a decision to revoke its certificates of incorporation over what it said was a breach of a ban on foreign ownership of media outlets.
Co-founded by Ressa in 2012, Rappler has been known for its tough scrutiny of former president Rodrigo Duterte. The shutdown order was upheld on June 28, two days before the end of Duterte’s term in office.
Ressa, who last year became the first Nobel laureate from the Philippines — sharing the prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov — was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for efforts to safeguard freedom of expression and her work and criticism of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs”— an antidrug policy that since 2016 has since led to the deaths of thousands of Filipinos, mostly urban poor, and drawn international condemnation.