Maria Ressa, still holding the line

kristina.png

Author: Kristina Dimitrova 

Maria Ressa – a high-profile, award-winning Filipina journalist and a founder of the independent news site Rapplerhas become a household name being a vocal critic of the Filipino populist president Rodrigo Duterte, in her efforts for free speech rights. Given her contribution in the journalist world and unprecedented fight for independent journalism, Maria Ressa was selected as one of Time magazine's Persons of the Year for 2018, as well as was awarded with a Nobel Prize this year by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which she shares with the Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov. 

Who is Maria Ressa?

Maria Ressa, born in the Philippines and raised in New Jersey, USA, a former CNN journalist, co-founded the digital-only news site Rappler in 2012 with the idea to fight for press freedom, truth and democratic values in the Philippines. The turbulent life of Maria Ressa started in 2016, when Rodrigo Duterte, a Filipino politician was elected president of the Philippines. The infamous president Duterte is well-known for his so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign against drug addicts and drug traffickers, resulting in more than 12,000 deaths of Filipino people. On a mission to uncover the abuse of power by Duterte’s administration and to hold them accountable for destroying thousands of lives of Filipinos, Maria Ressa and Rappler very quickly became one of the biggest threats for Duterte. In fact, the president himself throughout his presidency has publicly stated that Rappler is an American-owned fake news outlet and openly threatened independent journalism. Thus, Rappler became a target for Duterte’s government and was constantly under attack, with Maria Ressa only getting an average of 98 hate messages per hour. Therefore, Rappler’s team started tracking the accounts attacking all of media in order to expose the disinformation networks part of government’s propaganda machine. 

One website against the president 

Given Rappler’s avid criticism on President Rodrigo Duterte’s governance, Maria Ressa has been issued 10 arrest warrants in a little less than two years accusing her of ‘cyber-libel’ alongside other charges, forcing her to post bail each time. Despite the fact that some of these charges have been dropped, Rappler still remains to fight the rest, ranging from alleged tax offences to foreign ownership violations, with Maria Ressa facing a maximum penalty cumulatively of around 100 years. Even more, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 19 journalists had been killed during Duterte’s presidency by 2020, including at least 171 cases where journalists were under attack between June 2016 and April 2020. Besides that, Ressa is still obliged to submit a request for travel each time she has to leave Philippines, even though each and every time she has returned back proving she is not planning to flee the country. Nevertheless, Rappler and Ressa continue to fight for their rights until the end, because as the Nobel laureate herself has stated on several occasions ‘We will not duck, we will not hide, we will hold the line!’. 

 

A film about Maria’s resistance

The documentary film ‘A Thousand Cuts’ about Maria Ressa by the Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona Diaz, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival showcasing Ressa’s courageous fight for the truth. It also captures Maria Ressa’s strength and resilience towards Duterte’s government constant harassment and intimidation, as well as exposes the attack on Philippine democracy, as she says ‘by a thousand cuts which only lead to its weaking’. Given all that, Maria Ressa undoubtfully represents an inspiration for everyone with her continuous selfless attempts to fight not only for her own rights and freedoms, but rather to safeguard democracy and protect freedom of speech and expression for all.