Rodrigo Duterte: Rappler CEO Maria Ressa criticises Government 'attack', calls for respect for freedom of press

Rodrigo Duterte: Rappler CEO Maria Ressa criticises Government 'attack', calls for respect for freedom of press

Rodrigo Duterte: Rappler CEO Maria Ressa criticises Government 'attack', calls for respect for freedom of press

Updated 19 January 2018, 14:10 AEDT

Popular Philippine news website Rappler defends itself against potential legal action and implores the Rodrigo Duterte-led Government to respect freedom of the press.

Popular Philippine news website Rappler has defended itself against potential legal action and implored the Rodrigo Duterte-led Government to respect freedom of the press.

The Philippines' corporate regulator last week revoked the site's operating licence for violating the constitution's restrictions on foreign ownership of media, a charge Rappler said was false.

"We've been under attack both online and offline for almost a year-and-a-half," Rappler CEO Maria Ressa told the ABC's The World program.

"We know it's government instigated."

Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has also ordered an investigation into Rappler's possible criminal liability.

On Thursday, Rappler confirmed it had received a subpoena by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) ordering Ms Ressa and one of its former journalists to appear at the NBI offices on Monday to "give your side in a certain investigation".

The news site slammed the investigation as a "fishing expedition".

"The Secretary of Justice's statement is quite shocking because he also said that he had told Reuters and other reporters that he was willing to go … beyond the constitutionality of those Philippines Depository Receipts (PDRs), anything that they could [to] file a criminal case against Rappler," Ms Ressa said.

The Government alleges Rappler is foreign owned because it issued PDRs to two foreign investors in 2015 — North Base Media and Omidyar Network.

PDRs are financial instruments that are tied to the price of shares of the company but they do not grant ownership.

"We feel this is a fishing expedition. What's alarming here is a search warrant against the journalists of Rappler also takes into account all of the sources of Rappler," Ms Ressa said.

"This then becomes a press freedom issue."

Mr Aguirre defended his decision to order the probes.

"Rappler should welcome this investigation so that it will have the chance to prove the innocence it claims to have," he said in a statement.

Duterte takes aim at 'fake news outlet'

Known for its investigative reporting, including its close scrutiny of Mr Duterte's war on drugs, Rappler is one of few independent media organisations in the Philippines.

It has repeatedly drawn the ire of the volatile Mr Duterte, who on Tuesday called it a "fake news outlet", but he denied influencing the regulator, or going after journalists.

Ms Ressa said the current state in the Philippines was becoming reminiscent of the days of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

"To go back to this kind of environment is extremely sad, because I've spent my career covering every country, nearly every country in South-East Asia shift from authoritarian one-man rule to democracy and to see the pendulum swinging back, I just hope … I appeal to the Government to uphold the rule of law," she said.

"I have no choice but to have faith. We will continue to exhaust all of our legal remedies.

"We'll be prepared for the worst and hope for the best."

With wires