The founder and executive editor of the former news site Rappler and a researcher at the publication were today found guilty of “cyber libel”, after a judge ruled that correcting a spelling mistake in an article from 2012 constituted republication. This subjected the historical news item to libel laws introduced four months after its initial publication date.
Businessman Wilfredo Keng filed a criminal libel case in 2017 against editor Maria Ressa and researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr, over a then five-year-old article criticising the use of his SUV by Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. The pair were arrested on February 2019 under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, but the case initially floundered when the defendants’ lawyers pointed out that the article was published before the Act came into effect.
But in 2014, the team corrected a misspelled word in the text. The court ruled that, by doing so, the journalists had updated the article and so were guilty of “continuous publication”. Ressa and Santos were ordered to pay 400,000 pesos ($8000) in damages and Ressa may have to serve up to six years in prison. She will appeal the conviction.
Rappler itself was forced to close in 2018 amid accusations by President Duterte that its acceptance of foreign investment put the publication in breach of the constitution. Ressa maintains that Rappler remained Filipino-owned and that these investors did not have voting rights or editorial control. Rappler was known for its critical coverage of the government and had been one of few remaining independent media outlets in the Philippines. The nation’s biggest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, was also shut down in May.