MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president said Thursday he has banned a reporter from entering the presidential palace compound to attend news briefings because her online news organization’s license to operate was revoked by the government’s corporate watchdog.
President Rodrigo Duterte invoked the Securities and Exchange Commission ruling in banning Rappler reporter Pia Ranada from the Malacanang palace complex, where he, his spokesman and other top officials hold news briefings.
“It is not a legitimate agency according to SEC,” Duterte told a news conference. “If they would be considered legitimate you could enter again, no problem with me.”
In a ruling made public last month, the commission said Rappler violated a constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership and control of mass media companies when it received money from an international investment firm. Rappler has rejected the ruling and continued to operate.
Rappler, known for its critical reporting of Duterte’s presidency, and media watchdogs called the move an attempt to muzzle the press. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. argued that it was not, saying Ranada can report by watching news conferences on television.
Duterte’s move “could portend a broader assault on journalists and news organizations, whose critical watchdog role has magnified the government’s poor human rights record, from extrajudicial killings of thousands of alleged drug dealers and users to conflict-related abuses in the south,” Carlos Conde of the U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch said.
Despite the SEC ruling, the president initially allowed Ranada to continue covering presidential palace events but that ended when she stood by a story that alleged a key Duterte aide had intervened in a military deal to purchase frigates, Roque said.
“We cannot allow anyone into the president’s home especially a person who insists on disrespecting the home by reporting fake news,” Roque told reporters.
Duterte repeated an earlier accusation without offering evidence that Rappler might be funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Rappler has denied the allegation.
Duterte has also publicly attacked a leading newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the ABS-CBN TV network for what he called biased reporting, including on his crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead since he took power in 2016.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said “when the highest official in the land chooses to wage a personal vendetta against an individual, whether a journalist or a media outfit, it sends a clear and chilling signal that everyone else better report only what he wants you to or else.”
Human Rights Watch called on Filipinos, who this weekend mark the anniversary of the 1986 “people power” revolt that overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to show their support for a free press. Journalists were jailed and critical media organizations padlocked after Marcos declared martial law in 1972.