NEW YORK—An order by Philippine authorities to revoke the license of an independent news outlet critical of President Rodrigo Duterte is a direct attack on press freedom that could lead to a chilling effect on other media organizations across the country, PEN America said today.

The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) claimed that the news website Rappler, in receiving funding from the Omidyar Network, had violated a constitutional rule requiring mass media entities to be Philippine-owned. Rappler denied any wrongdoing, stating that neither of the company’s two foreign investors retain ownership shares. The revocation of its license will force it to shut down unless Rappler’s efforts to fight the decision in court are successful.

A spokesperson for the Philippine president approved the S.E.C.’s decision, announced Monday. President Duterte, who has been the target of strong criticism from independent media outlets for his government’s role in the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects, has repeatedly attacked the press, and has previously called out Rappler by name in a 2017 state of the nation address.

“This attack by an administration that has repeatedly demonstrated hostility toward the press is a blatant attempt to silence journalists at a time when Filipinos desperately need rigorous reporting,” said PEN America Journalism and Press Freedom Project Manager, Laura Macomber. “If the S.E.C.’s decision remains in place, it sets a precedent with alarming implications for Philippine press freedom in general and for the country’s remaining independent news outlets in particular. The Philippine S.E.C. should reverse this decision and refrain from interfering with Rappler’s operations.”

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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