CPJ is honored to present its 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award to Rappler editor Maria Ressa.
Maria Ressa is the founder, CEO, and executive editor of Rappler, a Philippine news website created in 2012 that is renowned for its critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial policies and actions.
Rappler has been targeted by the Philippine government recently. In November, authorities said they had grounds to indict Ressa and Rappler for tax evasion and failure to file returns, a move CPJ condemned. In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Rappler‘s registration to be revoked. The next month, the government banned the website, which Duterte characterized as “fake news,” from covering official presidential palace events. But Rappler continues to operate, with Ressa challenging what she sees as a politicized decision by the commission that is aimed at stifling critical coverage.
Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for more than 30 years, most of them as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila, then Jakarta. During that time, she served as the network’s lead investigative reporter focusing on terrorism in Southeast Asia. In 2005, she took the helm of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, and for six years managed more than 1,000 journalists for the largest multi-platform news operation in the Philippines. Her work aimed to redefine journalism by combining traditional broadcast, new media, and mobile phone technology for social change. In 1987, Ressa helped found the independent production company Probe.
She has taught courses in politics and media for her alma mater, Princeton University, as well as in broadcasting at the University of the Philippines. Her 2012 book, “From Bin Laden to Facebook,” is part of her work as author-in-residence and senior fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research in Singapore. In 2003, she wrote “Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia,” which documented the growth of Jemaah Islamiyah and its links to Al-Qaeda.
Ressa has earned multiple awards, including most recently the 2018 Golden Pen of Freedom Award from WAN-IFRA, the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award, the 2018 Free Media Pioneer Award from the International Press Institute, and the National Democratic Institute’s Democracy Award in 2017.
The text of Maria Ressa’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.
What a humbling experience – and an incredible honor to be here tonight. Thank you, Committee to Protect Journalists. This comes at a time when Rappler and I need your attention and support. This is an existential moment for global power structures, turned upside down by technology. When journalists globally are under attack. When power structures are shifting. Our problems are partly caused by yoursAmerican social media technology platforms, once empowering, now weaponized against journalists, activists, and citizens, spreading lies across borders; and, a president so much like ours whose attacks against the press (and women) give permission to autocrats (like ours) to unleash the dark side of humanity and extend their already vast powers with impunity, especially in countries where institutions have crumbled.
We at Rappler fight impunity on these two fronts: the Philippine government, and Facebook, essentially our internet. Both seed violence, fear, and lies that poison our democracy.
Those lies on social media form the basis of the government’s legal cases against us–planted and seeded for a year before the cases were filed.
This latest tax evasion case reclassifies Rappler as a “dealer in securities” (I’m obviously not a stock broker). Because I’m a journalist, I’m now labeled a criminal and can go to prison for 10 years.
With this announced indictment, my government has bent the law to its breaking point. It has perverted the rule of law–and used it against journalists and perceived critics. Weaponized–like social media.
Facebook connects more than 2.3 billion people around the world, and because of that, national boundaries have collapsed. There is a global playbook, and autocrats are learning from each other. (The most compromised accounts during Cambridge Analytica were in the U.S., the second–the Philippines.)
When President Trump called CNN and The New York Times ‘fake news,’ a week later, President Duterte called Rappler fake news. When President Trump took away the accreditation of CNN’s Jim Acosta, he was following what President Duterte did earlier this year to our reporter, Pia Ranada. He also banned me from the Palace, even though I haven’t reported during his administration.
I’d like to share 6 lessons and appeals for action:
1. The time to fight for journalism, for our Constitution, is now.
2. Don’t stay quiet when you are attacked. The exponential lies on social media, coupled with the President’s words, manufacture truth. Silence is consent.
3. We need to continue reporting without fear or favor. And – you heard these words here last year from my former colleague Christiane Amanpour: ‘we need to be truthful, not neutral.’
4. We need to build global alliances because information is the currency of power, manipulated by global players. You have the Mueller investigation here: well, if Russia is doing B to C; China is doing B to B. (Check out Freedom House’s report released this month which shows how China is exporting its digital authoritarianism to other governments)
5. We need to hold tech platforms to account. They need to move away from just business growth … they are now the world’s largest distributor of news so they have to take on the responsibilities journalists had as gatekeepers. They cannot allow lies to spread. They need to protect the public interest … and the public sphere where democracy happens.
6. Finally, for multinational businesses and investors: I’m being attacked not just as a journalist but as the founder of a company that successfully and legally raised money to make an idea a reality. Let my government know that you do not agree with its draconian measures and the signal it sends to investors – that the Philippines is not ready for innovation or investment.
For each of us, it’s about values and principles.
Our mission is very clear: Patricia Evangelista, who dedicated her life the past two years to the drug war and our impunity series, she is here–stand up. For the women and men of Rappler who have learned to live with these attacks–and who show up every day to fight back, this is for you. (Pause)
You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it.
Then every battle you win–or lose … every compromise you choose to make … or to walk away from … all these struggles define the values you live by, and, ultimately, who you are.
We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: we did not duck, we did not hide.
We are Rappler, and we will hold the line.