Under pressure Philippine news site Rappler's chief says complaint of cyber libel 'baseless'

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa speaking to the media at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila on Jan 22, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (REUTERS) - The head of a Philippine online news site battling revocation of its licence for violation of ownership conditions on Thursday (Feb 1) said law enforcers should drop a complaint of cyber libel against her, describing it as"baseless".

Ms Maria Ressa, chief executive of Rappler, responding to a complaint last year by businessman Wilfredo Keng, also called the allegations "baffling" and "unfounded".

Mr Keng featured in a 2012 Rappler story, updated in 2014, that cited an intelligence report linking him to illegal activities such as human trafficking and drug smuggling.

"The threat of being sued for libel is a constant one for us fearless journalists," Ms Ressa said in a written reply to the libel complaint filed with National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Her lawyer provided a copy to the media.

"This notwithstanding, it is our sacred duty to report events the public has the right to know."

Mr Keng, president of a mining firm, said the Rappler story included "malicious imputations of crimes, vices and defects, which tarnish my good and clean reputation with the public".

Rappler posted a copy of Mr Keng's complaint in a January article.

Ms Ressa argued the statute of limitations on libel, which should also apply to cyber libel, had already expired so the NBI had no basis to investigate and charge her.

The Rappler story, she added, was published before the country's cyber crime law took effect, so, "There was yet no crime of cyber libel to be committed."

Reuters could not immediately reach Mr Keng's lawyer to seek comment.

Rappler has invoked freedom of the press in its appeal to the Court of Appeals in the Philippines, challenging a decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to revoke its licence for violations of foreign equity curbs on domestic media.

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