FLOWERING OF THOUGHT: Freedom for Ressa, freedom for all

By: Jason A. Baguia February 20,2019 - 04:50 AM


According to actual and self-appointed mouthpieces of the current dispensation, last week’s arrest of journalist Maria Ressa was not an attack on our freedoms.

The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation believes otherwise.

The consortium is a national network of journalists, academics, bloggers, and other independents taking a stand for the protection of our freedoms in a time of disinformation.

Disinformation is, in the words of Merriam-Webster, “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth,” that is, to deceive.

For many, the arrest of Ressa, who was freed on bail following a night in detention (much, much later than she should have been so freed), is subject to interpretation. Supporters of Ressa may call it media repression while opponents of the administration may call it regular execution of the law that discourages libel.

A certain Wilfredo Keng had filed a cyberlibel case against Ressa over an article published in Rappler, a news website of which she is chief executive offcer, in October 2017 involving an investigative report published in May  2012.

But, without prejudice against the concerns of Keng (whose gripes should be directed against the government agency that released information potentially staining his good name), the law that includes cyberlibel as an offense, the cybercrime law, was signed into law in September 2012.

This alone is a red flag that raises eyebrows. From where Juan de la Cruz and Maria Clara sit, it is a surprise that the law is appearing, in the case of Ressa, to operate retroactively when it should not.

For the consortium, Ressa’s arrest is only the latest of the troubles being faced by her and her news organization under the current dispensation, troubles that, as it were, in view of Rappler’s critical reporting on the administration, indicate a pushback.

“The administration has sought to revoke Rappler’s corporate license, manufactured tax evasion charges against it, and manipulated the legal process to file a now notorious cyberlibel case,” the consortium states in a paper now in circulation in the internet.

“This is state harassment of a crucial news source, one that has reported deeply on the extrajudicial killings caused by an extremely violent campaign against illegal drugs, provided incontrovertible proof of organized disiniformation in the digital space, and fact-checked pro-administration claims on Facebook.”

It should not be forgotten that Rappler’s Ressa was one of at least two national news organizations, the other one being the Philippine Daily Inquirer that maintained a regularly updated list of the casualties in the ongoing bloody crackdown on illegal drugs. That list is now hard to maintain after maneuvers to make monitoring difficult and to drive down the number of deaths.

It was Rappler, using all the means at its disposal, that exposed the weaponization of social media through an army of trolls and fake accounts that raised hallelujahs in support of the regime.

It was Rappler, along with Vera Files, another web-based news organization that eventually received recognition as independent Facebook fact checkers with the power to probe and expose false claims circulating in the social network. The work of the two organizations had foreshadowed Facebook’s takedown of several accounts that propagated disinformation.

If there is no crackdown on freedom of speech, of expression, of the press in this land, then the government should immediately drop the cyberlibel charges against Ressa and stop shooting at messengers. Rather than making so much of an effort protesting cries of repression, public servants should refrain from engaging in behavior that provokes such cries.

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