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Muffling voices again

Muffling voices again

The media is, understandably, an easy target for insecure and bullying political leaders the world over. "The leader of the free world", Donald Trump, keeps tweeting against the "fake media" whenever he gets a bad press. The likes of, say, Vladimir Putin is not famous for his tolerance either. It is much the same with Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines. Hence, Maria Ressa, a high-profile Philippine journalist, known the world over, and a vocal critic of the country's president, was arrested in connection with "cyber libel" charges against Rappler, the news site she oversees. She was released on bail 24 hours later. Ressa was formally arrested after being served a warrant by Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officers. She was later photographed by a media scrum entering NBI headquarters. Rappler said the charges are over an article it published in 2012. Ressa was indicted in relation to that case last week, which Amnesty International criticised as "yet another absurd legal attack" that amounted to "harassment". Ressa, the chief executive of Rappler and a 2018 Time Person of the Year, has been indicted multiple times on libel and tax evasion charges that critics have described as politically motivated and designed to silence independent media in the southeast Asian country. Rappler said authorities attempted to stop some of its journalists from filming the proceedings against Ressa. One officer who declined to give his name to reporters threatened to go after others too. Rappler's extensive reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs has earned praise from human rights advocates but has made the site and its journalists a target. Time Magazine included her among its selections for the 2018 Person of the Year award, which honoured journalists who have been targeted for their work. Philippine prosecutors filed five cases related to tax evasion against Ressa and Rappler late last year. Some of the charges allege that the company failed to declare about $3 million in 2015 on tax returns from an investment by the Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar. "I've long run out of synonyms for the word 'ridiculous.' The basis of this case is that Rappler is classified as a dealer in securities. "I am definitely not a stockbroker," Ressa said after news of those charges broke. Duterte's office has denied he is involved in the prosecutions against Rappler but the President has previously sparred with the company's employees, personally barring Ressa and reporter Pia Ranada from Malacanang Palace, his official residence, over their coverage of his administration. Rappler, an online news site, has become an indispensable source of information for readers in the Philippines and internationally.

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