VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Foreign journo’s question to Ressa taken OUT OF CONTEXT

A Facebook (FB) page posted an image featuring a statement by BBC News journalist Stephen Sackur directed at Rappler founder Maria Ressa in a television interview aired primarily in the United Kingdom on June 26. A misleading caption was added to the graphic, insinuating Sackur was stating that Ressa is a “tax evader.”

On June 28, FB page Pinas Ang Ina Nyo wrote a three-paragraph caption that started with the baseless pronouncement that the “entire world knows” Ressa was “receiving money” from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States. It ended with this sentence:

“...alam pa ni Stephen Sackur na isang huwad at tax evader ang Rappler CEO at convicted criminal na si Maria Ressa (Stephen Sackur knows Rappler CEO and convicted criminal Maria Ressa is fake and is a tax evader).”

This is erroneous. Sakur, in his program HARDtalk, was only enumerating to Ressa the “allegations” against the Filipino journalist. His complete statement was:

“...my show is called HARDtalk and I have to take seriously the charges against you because as you indicated, you’ve indicated that the libel is the least of it. You still face allegations of -- my goodness, what a list -- fraud, tax evasion, receiving money from the CIA. I mean, you could be in court for years and years to come.”

The program’s episode featuring Ressa was published online on June 30. In the video’s caption, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s political leadership was referred to as a “strongman style” characterized by the “visceral dislike of scrutiny from the independent media.”

Rappler is one of several media organizations in the Philippines that have been attacked by the president since 2016. In 2017, he accused the outfit of being “owned by an American” then of being run by ABS-CBN Corp. In 2018, Duterte called Rappler a “fake news outlet” and barred its reporter from attending Malacañang's press briefings. This came after the online news outfit came out with a special report on the supposed link of then Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ multi billion-peso deal to acquire warships.

On June 15, Ressa, and former Rappler researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr., were convicted of cyber-libel over a story accusing a local businessman of involvement in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.”

On June 29, the two filed a motion for the Manila Regional Trial Court to reconsider its decision.

Social media tool CrowdTangle showed Pinas Ang Ina Nyo’s post could have reached over 2.1 million social media users, garnering almost 10,000 interactions from netizens.

The post’s top traffic generator is Pinas Ang Ina Nyo itself, alongside public groups REAL PHILIPPINE HISTORY and Rodrigo Duterte Supporters Cebu (RDS Cebu). Pinas Ang Ina Nyo was created in August 2015.

(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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