Stop harassing Rappler, media advocacy groups tell Duterte

Two global media freedom advocacy groups accuse the Philippine government of trying to “silence” Rappler and its journalists. Image: Rappler

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have written a joint open letter to the prosecutor-general of the Philippines calling for an end to the orchestrated harassment of the news website Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa, which began more than a year ago.

The website, which has more than 3.7 million followers on Facebook alone, has been under constant bureaucratic and legal attack by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Department of Justice earlier this month said that it planned to file unspecified tax evasion charges against Rappler and the website’s founder and executive editor, award-winning Maria Ressa.

READ MORE: The Rappler story: Journalism with an impact

The two media freedom advocacy groups said the government was trying to “silence” the website and its journalists.

Later it filed on November 9 a criminal case against two Rappler executives for allegedly avoiding paying  133.8 million pesos ($9.6 million) in tax.

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“We urge you to cease this campaign of intimidation and harassment against Rappler, both for the sake of respecting press freedom and for your government’s international credibility,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in the joint open letter.

Rappler publisher Maria Ressa could face up to 10 years in prison for tax evasion. Noel Celis /RSF/AFP

‘Fearless reporting’
Rappler had said after the tax evasion charges were first reported that: “We are not at all surprised by the decision, considering how the Duterte administration has been treating Rappler for its independent and fearless reporting.

“We maintain that this is a clear form of continuing intimidation and harassment against us, and an attempt to silence journalists.”

The website said there was no legal basis for the action. The open letter said:

Mr Richard Anthony Fadullon
Prosecutor-General
Department of Justice
Ermita, Manila 1000
Republic of the Philippines
Via email: communications@doj.gov.ph

Dear Prosecutor General Fadullon,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders, two independent non-profit press freedom organisations, ask that you and your office end the politicised persecution of Philippine news site Rappler.

The Department of Justice earlier this month said that it planned to file tax evasion charges against Rappler and the website’s founder and executive editor, Maria Ressa. The charges relate to a company bond sale in 2015 that, according to reports, resulted in 162.5 million pesos (euros 2,7 million) in financial gains. The Justice Department’s statement did not indicate how much Rappler and Ressa allegedly owed in taxes.

Ressa has denied the allegation and said that Rappler is compliant with all Philippine tax laws, including the transaction in question. She said she believes the legal threat is an attempt to silence her news outlet’s critical reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. CPJ and RSF have documented in the past year how authorities have retaliated against Rappler’s coverage, including by banning its reporters from the presidential palace and referring to the site as “fake news” and “biased.”

The Department of Justice’s announcement that it will seek to file tax evasion charges is strikingly and worryingly similar to previous legal harassment of Rappler. The news site is still fighting a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) order to revoke its registration. The Court of Appeals ruled in July that the SEC had erred in its move to revoke Rappler’s certificate of incorporation, but the outlet’s motion to fully annul the order is still pending.

We view the tax evasion charges, which carry potential 10-year prison penalties under local law, as a clear and present threat to press freedom. As Ressa has pointed out, the charges could potentially threaten foreign investors who use similar mechanisms, and could thus damage the Philippine economy

We urge you to cease this campaign of intimidation and harassment against Rappler, both for the sake of respecting press freedom and for your government’s international credibility.

Sincerely,
Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Christophe Deloire
Secretary-General
Reporters Without Borders

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Media freedom commentators condemn Nauru ‘gag’ actions

Television New Zealand Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver talks to media in Nauru yesterday following her release after being detained by police for almost four hours. Image: RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Morning Report

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrived today for the leader’s retreat at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru where she is expected to ask for details about the detention of TVNZ journalist Barbara Dreaver yesterday.

Dreaver, who is there to cover the Forum, was interviewing a refugee outside a restaurant when she was picked up by police.

She says they asked for her visa, told her she was breaching her conditions and cancelled her accreditation for the Pacific Islands Forum.

LISTEN: RNZ Morning Report

It is part of a wider pattern of restricting media coverage across the Pacific.

Sally Round is among a team of RNZ Pacific reporters who have been covering Nauru for many years.

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Professor David Robie is the director of the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology.

They talk to Susie Ferguson.

Both commentators criticised the media restrictions and obstruction by Nauruan authorities.

“There is nothing like being on the ground in a place when you are covering it – you get the firsthand view of everything,” Round said.

Having the Forum in Nauru presented the first opportunity for many years for journalists to be on the ground to independent reporting of the country.

There is no independent media on the island.

“We were building up to this with the ban on the ABC participating. It’s a clear pattern that’s being going on,” said Dr Robie.

“In fact, I’d say there has been erosion of peace freedom in the Pacific steadily over the last five years – ironically over the same period of the detention centres in Nauru and on Manus.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

PNG Facebook ban threat casts shadow over Pacific media freedom

Papua New Guinea threatened to temporarily ban Facebook earlier this year. With the APEC conference looming in November, the question remains whether this was an attack on freedom of speech. Jessica Marshall of Asia-Pacific Journalism reports in a two-part series on the Pacific internet.

In March, it was revealed that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested millions of Facebook profiles.

The breach, thought to be one of Facebook’s biggest, reportedly used the data to influence both the United States 2016 presidential election and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom.

In the aftermath, Facebook announced a commitment “to reducing the spread of false news on Facebook,” by removing false accounts and using independent third-party factcheckers to curb fake news on the site.

The effectiveness of this new policy remains to be seen.

The revelation of the Cambridge Analytica scandal lead to the Papua New Guinean government threat in May that it would ban the social network for a month in the country.

Communications Minister Sam Basil was reported by news media as saying the ban decision was an attempt to enforce the Cyber Crime Act 2016.

A horde of PNG “ban on Facebook” stories on Google, but stories on PNG’s subsequent back off in the proposal are hard to find. Image: PMC

“The Act has already been passed, so what I’m trying to do is to ensure the law is enforced accordingly… We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.” Basil told the Post-Courier.

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Difficult to track
According to The Guardian, Basil had raised concerns about the protection of the privacy of Papua New Guinea’s Facebook users. He had claimed that it was difficult to track those who had posted defamatory comments on Facebook using “ghost profiles”.

Basil later denied in the media that he had said he would ban Facebook, but the Post-Courier stood by its report which had sparked of the flurry of stories and speculation. So far no ban has actually taken place.

Papua New Guinea is not the only country to have banned the social media site. Facebook is already blocked in authoritarian countries like China, Iran and North Korea.

In March, Sri Lanka blocked the site along with Viber and WhatsApp for nine days, believing it to be the cause of hate speech and violence.

Facebook was also condemned for allowing hate speech to become prominent in Myanmar during the Rohingya crisis earlier in the year.

The platform, according to Reuters, was claimed to have played an important role in the spread of hate speech when Rohingya refugees were fleeing their homeland to Bangladesh.

Other countries have made attempts to combat trolling and fake news, New Zealand included.

In 2015, New Zealand made cyberbullying illegal in an attempt to curb teen suicide. The law, passed in tandem with an amendment to the Crimes Act 1961, was designed to ensure that cyberbullies would face up to two years’ imprisonment.

‘Fake news’ conviction
In April this year, the Malaysian courts convicted its first person under a new fake news law. The Danish citizen was charged after he posted a video claiming that police were not quick to act after receiving distress calls regarding the shooting of a Palestinian lecturer.

Questions regarding free speech have circulated since the Basil reportedly made the announcement.

Only 11 percent of the Papua New Guinean population have access to the internet. The site, for those with the ability to use it, has become a news source in a place where media freedom is increasingly threatened.

PNG “news” blogs have proliferated.

While Freedom House’s most recent report on press freedom says that the press in Papua New Guinea is free, the organisation is quick to note that this freedom has become worse over recent years.

Freedom of speech, information and the press are all guaranteed and inalienable rights in Papua New Guinean law due to Section 46 of the country’s constitution.

What has caused problems, however, for the press is political pressure and violence. Over the years, journalists have been “detained without charge, and their video footage was destroyed”.

Three female journalists were sexually assaulted in 2014, the report states.

Reporters Without Borders also reported police violence against journalists in 2016. It said in a media statement that one NBC journalist had been assaulted by three police officers until another officer intervened. Others had been attacked by a plainclothes officer.

Facebook as news source
In the era of fake news, social media plays a huge role in how the people get their news.
According to Pew Research, two-thirds of American adults got their news through social media in 2017.

A report by the ABC said “more Papua New Guineans have access to social media than ever”.

“Facebook is… being cited as an important hub for news, and the audience is larger than other news websites with 53 percent of weekly users reporting the use of online social media compared to the two main newspapers’ websites,” the report said.

Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific director of Reporters Without Borders, said that blocking Facebook “would deprive nearly a million internet users” from news and information.

“Instead of resorting to censorship, the Communications Minister should encourage online platforms to be more transparent and responsible about content regulation.”

There is still concern about the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Port Moresby in November and a possible Facebook ban’s impact.

Paul Barker, director of the Institute of National Affairs, told the Post-Courier “It would be a travesty if PNG sought to close down Facebook during the APEC month… as it would be both an attack on embracing technology, undermining the information era and mechanisms for accountability, but also damaging business and welfare.”

Jessica Marshall is an AUT student journalist on the postgraduate Asia Pacific Journalism course.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Juffa accuses O’Neill government of ‘shutting down’ free speech in PNG

Oro Govenor Gary Juffa … not just about Facebook, a matter of democracy. Image: PNG Parliament

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Oro Governor Garry Juffa says the people of PNG find it “frightening” and “alarming”  that the Papua New Guinea government is making a move towards shutting down their opportunity to have access to information and to speak freely.

He says the media freedom issue is not just about Facebook – it is about “fundamental democracy” and free speech in the country.

Juffa was responding to a Parliamentary Privileges Committee hearing about a criticism Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer made about Communications Minister Sam Basil in the controversy about a threatened shutdown of Facebook in Papua New Guinea for “research” into abuse.

“This criticism that they [givernment MPs] are complaining about, they are basically complaining about is their feelings of being hurt because of something that has offended them or has demeaned them in some ways, but this comes with the territory,” Juffa has said in the Post-Courier.

“When you are a leader you going to get criticised, that’s normal, [US President] Donald Trump gets criticised you know, the Australian Prime Minister gets criticised and they take it, they don’t go and refer these matters to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in their countries, they don’t cry about it and demand apologies,” he said.

“We should be feeling hurt about the fact that we don’t have medicines in our aid posts and hospitals, we should be feeling hurt about the fact that our schools are shutting down because they are not getting funds they need, that our teachers are not being paid, we should be getting hurt about the fact that our economy is taking such a nose dive that ordinary Papua New Guineans are losing their homes, they are losing their business, they are not being paid, people are losing their jobs, these are the things that we need to be hurt about and expressing our concerns about.

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‘World looking’
“But we have taken three days of Parliament over an issue because someone in Parliament is being hurt about what someone said about them, it’s quite ridiculous and in fact the world is now looking at Papua New Guinea and thinking what is going on in that country.

“This is not about Facebook.

“This is about the freedom of our people to have the opportunity to say what they want, I may not agree with what you say but we must always fight to protect your right to say it because that’s the fundamental hallmark of democracy.

“We are supposed to host APEC, I mean APEC nations that are coming here that promotes and subscribe to democracy will be aghast, will be shocked that here is a country that is deliberately moving to snuff out or stop the opportunity for its people to dissent.

“The Opposition walk-out from Parliament was a demonstration of our disgust at the fact that the government is deliberately moving against our peoples rights to express themselves.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Keith Jackson: Did dumb just get dumber and Sam Basil dig a hole?

A near confrontation on the floor of Parliament on Friday, with the Papua New Guinea Opposition walking out in protest over the referral of Madang MP Bryan Kramer, to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee following a Facebook posting. Video: EMTV News

OPINION: By Keith Jackson in Noosa

Samuel H Basil, the man who might ban Papua New Guineans from Facebook, was not always such a stern opponent of the social media platform he now despises – a platform used by nearly a million of his fellow citizens.

Indeed it was only 18 months ago that Basil – who is now Communications Minister – posted on his own Facebook page: “FB users in PNG have used the medium to their advantage exposing corruption in government…. Everything is changing; people are taking their bloggers seriously and their politicians as comedians.”

Yes, bloggers serious; politicians comic.

READ MORE: Gary Juffa on the Kramer censoring – another attack on free speech

Then last week, having defected not only from his political base but seemingly from his former progressive and liberal ideas, Basil felt able to announce that Facebook could be banned for a month for some mysterious “research” – and maybe disposed of permanently, perhaps to be replaced by Basbook.

Communications Minister Sam Basil with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – worried about the wellbeing of PNG or just politicians feelings being hurt? Image: PNG Attitude

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An immediate worldwide flambé of curiosity then thrust the story into the news stratosphere, some journalists linking it with Papua New Guinea’s APEC forum later this year. Basil seemed to back away, then push the idea forward again so by week’s end what the government intends to do was very much up in the air.

But one thing did remain constant (see more stories on PNG Attitude) – the desire of most national politicians to get rid of the dreadful FB thing that is causing them so much grief with increasingly savvy and critical voters.

Among the small group of politicians fighting to keep Facebook alive is Madang MP Bryan Kramer who was cheeky enough (in a Facebook post of course) to allude to Basil in a headline which asked, “Did dumb just get dumber?”.

Parliamentary walkout
Affecting to have been taken aback, in Parliament the majority of members voted to refer Kramer to the Privileges Committee whereupon Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch and 23 other members walked out of the chamber in protest.

The committee will decide if Kramer’s post brought Parliament into disrepute.

Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer … controversial statement made outside Parliament on Facebook. Image: EMTV News

However, there is something of a problem – the committee is meant to investigate breaches of parliamentary privilege and Kramer’s statement was not made in Parliament.

“I think what is frightening and what is alarming for the people of PNG is a deliberate move towards shutting down their opportunities to have access to information and to also speak freely,” Pruaitch said.

“They [politicians] are complaining about their feelings being hurt.”

Meanwhile, in far away Uganda, Parliament has just passed a new social media tax which will charge a daily fee of 200 Ugandan shillings (about K1.75) to anyone using apps Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. That’s a hefty sum in a country where the average person earns K6 a day.

But, as with Sam Basil’s ill thought through proposition for Papua New Guinea, it is unclear in Uganda how social media use will be monitored and how the money will be collected.

Digging themselves deeper holes in their desire to rein in social media seems to be a developing political trait.

This article is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission and was originally published by Keith Jackson’s blog PNG Attitude.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

PNG students in China say Facebook move is ‘irrelevant’ and damaging

Papua New Guinean students in China protesting over a separate issue. A file picture of the Shenyang PNG Students Association members protesting over the shooting of students at the University of PNG in 2016. Image: Loop PNG

By Melisha Yafoi in Beijing

Students studying in Beijing, China, have described the move by Papua New Guinea’s Communications Minister Sam Basil to suspend Facebook for one month as “irrelevant” and damaging for education communications.

The students in a forum have expressed disappointment that there are more pressing issues that the government needs to address yet it is concerned about legislating freedom of speech for the people.

They said that being outside the country they were able to read information and connecting with family back home as many of the people do not have other social media platforms other than Facebook.

READ MORE: Facebook shutdown ‘a mockery to APEC’

They also said through Facebook, leaders were made accountable to their actions and were condemned publicly for their wrongdoing.

“Some people abuse it but the majority use this to express themselves. Why is government so worried about it. They have better things to do than wasting time to fb issue,”  Beijing PNG students vice-president Samuel Ray said.

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“The real issues are out there. We have police brutality on the rise, car theft, rural urban drift, poverty, deteriorating infrastructure both school, road and heath services. Drug shortage, TFF policy not working well etc.”

It was also raised that it is obvious that the people have already lost their trust in the government. As a result there would be no positive result coming from this temporary suspension.

‘Top shots on toes’
“Most politicians, top government officials and top shots are always on their toes for being exposed of under the table deals,” the students said.

“Our national media (with due respect to the hard working media team) can sometimes be compromised by the government. Thus leaves social media, with no restrictions on people on what they post. A national social network isn’t a solution. Data of citizens shouldn’t rest in the hands of privileged individuals to manipulate.”

An international relations student suggested that PNG’s Communications and Information Technology Department should focus more on things like how to improve network services around the country and work on helping PNG catch up to the digital era rather than trying to keep PNG away from it.

She said shutting down Facebook will not solve anything and trying to analyse its positive or negative impacts was a waste of time and resources.

“The government, instead of choosing to totally shut down Facebook, should innovate ideas on establishing appropriate alternatives especially on the imposition of penalties on those abusive users of this social media platform,” another student said.

Melisha Yafoi is a contributor to the Post-Courier.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Vanuatu Daily Post editor wins top award for leadership among women

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Vanuatu Daily Post editor wins top award for leadership among women

Vanuatu Daily Post editor Jane Joshua … winner of this year’s Hanson Mataskelekele award for leadership among women. Image: Dan McGarry/Vanuatu Daily Post

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Vanuatu Daily Post editor Jane Joshua, a journalist who has set new standards for social justice and human rights reporting in her country, has been awarded the Hanson Mataskelekele Award for leadership among women.

“We are immensely proud to congratulate Jane,” said the Daily Post media group director Dan McGarry.

Joshua became editor of the Daily Post in February after working for the newspaper for many years.

“From the beginning, she demonstrated her top-flight journalistic skills. Her reporting has provided an essential addition to the public dialogue,” said McGarry.

“Her reporting of human rights abuses among the country’s prison population contributed to fundamental changes in how our incarcerated population are treated.”

Joshua broke a story detailing the contents of the Commission of Inquiry into the fatal sinking of the local vessel MGY, in which charges of manslaughter were laid against the owner, captain and a crew member of the ship.

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Outcry led to reforms
An outcry following this commission of inquiry report led to the creation of a Maritime Regulator and the current wholesale reform of the maritime sector.

Her work as associate editor had recently contributed significantly to the Daily Post company’s expanded radio news and current affairs programming, and its burgeoning presence on social media.

The Daily Post news group is widely regarded as the most reputable source of information and news about Vanuatu in social media today.

“Our social media news coverage has reached as many as 120,000 people in a single day,” said McGarry.

Jane Joshua has written nearly 270 front page stories in the last four years alone.

Her elevation to the rank of editor made her one of few women in the top rank of the news media establishment in the Pacific islands. She is the first woman to occupy the role of editor at this newspaper.

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