Philippine pillar of press freedom
Veteran Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, has become a symbol of the struggle for press freedom in an era of strong rulers.
The former CNN bureau chief co-founded the Rappler news website in 2012, bringing together multimedia and social media reports to offer a cutting-edge perspective on Filipino news.
Ressa, 58, has sharply criticized President Rodrigo Duterte and his murderous war on drugs, triggering what media advocates say are a series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks against her and Rappler.
She was named Personality of the Year in 2018 for her work on press freedom, but several arrests and one conviction for computer defamation have bolstered her international profile and brought more attention to her struggle.
Rappler had to fight for his survival as Duterte’s government accused him of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership by securing funding, as well as defamation and tax evasion.
Duterte attacked the website by name, calling it “false information” because of a story about one of his closest associates.
“In order to continue doing what we are doing, Rappler lives with the possibility of a daily shutdown – we are on quicksand,” Ressa said Friday in a live interview after the Nobel Prize was announced.
“What we need to do as journalists is just hold the line.”
Although the government said it had nothing to do with the cases against her, press freedom advocates disagree.
Yet through the campaign against her Ressa, who is also an American citizen, remained based in the Philippines and continued to denounce Duterte’s government despite the risks.
“I am not a single reporter,” Ressa told AFP in an interview last year. “My job is to hold the cap up, it’s been a while … so our people can keep working.”
“Shot down and threatened”
Ressa, author of How to Stand Up to a Dictator, is on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber defamation case, in which she faces up to six years of death. jail.
Two more cyber defamation cases were cleared earlier this year.
“In less than two years, the Philippine government has filed 10 arrest warrants against me – it was pretty dark at different times,” Ressa said on Friday.
Ressa’s position as head of the Rappler news site, by her own estimate, meant up to 90 abusive posts per hour online at any given point in time towards the end of 2016.
The threats came in the months following Duterte’s rise to power and the launch of his campaign to crack down on drugs, which rights groups say has killed tens of thousands of people.
Rappler was among domestic and foreign media that published shocking images of the murders and questioned their legal basis.
Judges of the International Criminal Court have authorized a full investigation into a possible crime against humanity during the bloody campaign.
It was a whole new set of threats for Ressa, who was a conflict zone veteran before co-founding Rappler.
“I started as a journalist in 1986, and I’ve worked in so many countries around the world, I’ve been touched and threatened but never that kind of death by a thousand cuts,” Ressa said last year.
As a former CNN bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, Ressa specialized in terrorism, where she followed links between global networks like al-Qaida and activists in Southeast Asia.
The Princeton graduate then returned to the Philippines to take on the post of chief information officer at the country’s leading broadcaster, ABS-CBN, which was also a victim of the Duterte administration.
Ressa was provocative on Friday in her defense of her battle for free speech and independent journalism.
“We must continue to shed light,” Ressa said. “We must continue to do accountability journalism.”