January 19, 2023

Rappler, a leading news and fact-checking organization in the Philippines, just won a consolidated tax evasion lawsuit that has been ongoing for four years. Though there are still charges pending, this is a big win for Rappler, which has been hampered by the Philippine government’s enduring campaign against critical press coverage since 2018.

“Today, we celebrate the triumph of facts over politics,” Rappler wrote in a statement.

The Philippine Court of Tax Appeals acquitted Rappler on four charges of tax evasion that had been filed by the administration of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We thank the court for this just decision and for recognizing that the fraudulent, false and flimsy charges made by the Bureau of Internal Revenue do not have any basis in fact,” Rappler said in a statement. “An adverse decision would have had far-reaching repercussions on both the press and the capital markets.”

When asked whether this decision could be a signal that the current administration might be more lenient with Rappler than Duterte’s, a spokesperson for Rappler said “we’ll watch and see.”

Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler and Nobel laureate, was also acquitted of the charges. While Ressa is still facing some legal challenges, prior to this ruling, Ressa had been looking at over 100 years of imprisonment. A cyber-libel case is still in the books, with several related legal challenges.

Rappler was accused of violating the constitution when it issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to the Omidyar Network. Since ownership of media organizations in the Philippines is limited to Filipinos or Philippine organizations, the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (at the time under President Duterte) opened a case against Rappler, accusing it of being foreign-owned and therefore unconstitutional.

However, PDRs are a certificate of investment that can be legally owned by non-Filipinos. And, unlike stocks, they don’t confer direct ownership and are commonly used by media groups around the world.

On Jan. 18, the Philippine Court of Tax Appeals unanimously voted that Rappler’s issuance of PDRs to the Omidyar Network was non-taxable, the crux of the tax-evasion case.

“There is nothing in the wordings of the PDR instruments and the PDR subscription agreements that would show the foreign entities North Base Media and Omidyar Network will become owners of the shares of stock of Rappler,” the court wrote.

Ressa’s lawyer, Francis Lim, said if PDRs were declared taxable income in the Philippines, “every business seeking to raise capital would be affected.”

“Today, facts win, truth wins, justice wins,” Ressa said. “Perhaps, to those who troll Rappler and those who believe the lies against Rappler, we have already proven that Rappler is not a tax evader.”

“Four down. We look forward to the quick resolution of the rest of the charges against Rappler,” said Ellen Tordesillas, co-founder of VERA Files, a Philippine investigative and fact-checking outlet. “Nobody deserves the harassment Rappler went through under Duterte.”

Interesting fact-checks

EU’s head of foreign policy Josep Borell delivers a speech, Wednesday, April 6, 2022 in Strasbourg. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

  • Reuters Fact Check: Video shows man being hit by a live wire in India, not being electrocuted due to Bluetooth earphones (English)
    • “A video shows a ticket examiner at the Kharagpur railway station in India being electrocuted when a live wire hit him on the head. The video, however, is being shared online alongside an unrelated claim that the electrocution happened due to wearing Bluetooth earphones.”
  • Snopes: Did a man lose his hands on Space Mountain? (English)
    • “In early January 2023, readers searched for answers after seeing a rumor that said a man lost his hands while riding Space Mountain. One headline on Mouse Trap News read, ‘Man Seriously Injured on Space Mountain at Disney World.’ Another one reported the purported news that resulted from the injury, which said, ‘Space Mountain Will Keep Lights On Permanently.’”
  • Full Fact: Instagram post misrepresents study linking climate change and diseases (English)
    • “Research reported in the Daily Mail links migraines, strokes and dementia rates to climate change, but increases are actually explained by harm from Covid-19 vaccines,” an Instagram post claimed. However, Full Fact writes, “the research almost entirely focuses on data from before the Covid vaccines were produced. The vaccines can cause strokes in rare cases, though less often than infection itself. The vaccines are generally safe and are not associated with dementia or long-term migraine disorders.”
  • Newtral: No han “pillado” a Borrell con cuentas en paraísos fiscales, los documentos son falsos y fueron fabricados
    • “Josep Borrell (High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) has not been ‘caught’ with accounts in tax havens, the documents are false and were fabricated. The Seychelles bank to which Borrell’s accounts are attributed confirms to Newtral.es that the documents are false, while the promoters of this hoax are charged in the Audiencia Nacional for slander, libel and criminal organization.”

Quick hits

A Filipino trader talks on his mobile phone in front of the electronic board showing a downward trend in trading at the Philippine Stock Exchange (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

From the news: 

  • Climate ‘facts’ post is a meltdown of misinformation “A Facebook post featuring a greatest hits collection of climate change misinformation is spreading on social media. The post (archived here), which is attributed to the late Professor Bob Carter from 2009, was shared in the Australian Climate Sceptics Group on January 4 and has been posted numerous times since at least 2018. It purportedly lists ‘the facts’ about climate change, but instead makes several false and misleading claims.” (Australian Associated Press, Zathia Bazeer)
  • Is the Philippine debt still manageable? “The COVID-19 pandemic forced the government to borrow at the historic level to manage the unprecedented health and economic crises that included providing stimulus packages for small businesses, unemployment benefits, incentives and financial assistance for health and other essential workers.” Is the debt sustainable? What is the government doing to ease its burden? VERA Files does a deep dive. (VERA Files)

From/for the community:

  • Google and YouTube are partnering with the International Fact-Checking Network to distribute a $13.2 million grant to the international fact-checking community. “The world needs fact-checking more than ever before. This partnership with Google and YouTube infuses financial support to global fact-checkers and is a step in the right direction,” said Baybars Örsek, former executive director of the IFCN. “And while there’s much work to be done, this partnership has sparked meaningful collaboration and an important step.”
  • The IFCN has awarded $450,000 in grant support to organizations working to lessen the impact of false and misleading information on WhatsApp. In partnership with Meta, the Spread the Facts Grant Program gives verified fact-checking organizations resources to identify, flag and reduce the spread of misinformation that threatens more than 100 billion messages each day. The grant supports eleven projects from eight countries: India, Spain, Nigeria, Georgia, Bolivia, Italy, Indonesia and Jordan. Read more about the announcement here.
  • IFCN job announcements: Program Officer, Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist

Thanks for reading. If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at factually@poynter.org by next Tuesday. Corrections? Tips? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at factually@poynter.org.

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it in your email every other Thursday.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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