In her acceptance speech, Ressa shed light on the plight of journalists all over the world who are being persecuted for their practice. She mentioned the recent killing of Filipino reporter Jess Malabanan and the continued detainment of young journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio.
Malabanan was shot dead at home in Samar on Dec. 8. He was a defense reporter in the 1980s and aided Reuters in reporting drug war stories which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018.
Meanwhile, Cumpio still awaits her day in court for allegedly possessing illegal firearms, a common charge among activists and journalists. She was arrested along with four activists on February 7, 2020 in a raid of “identified Commmunist Terrorist Group safe houses.”
Ressa highlighted the dire situation of press freedom and democracy in the country from media killings to the ABS-CBN franchise denial. She also emphasized the role of big technological corporations as the “new gatekeepers” in the world’s “information ecosystem.”
“It has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pitting us against each other, bringing out our fears, anger, hate, and setting the stage for the rise of authoritarians and dictators around the world,” she said.
The peace laureate said that the world’s greatest need today is to transform the hate and violence propagated by American tech companies that greatly profit off a polarized society.
“In order to be the good, we have to believe there is good in the world,” Ressa said.
As the only woman among this year’s 13 laureates, Ressa puts a spotlight on “gendered disinformation” that threatens the safety of minority groups all over the world.
“Women journalists are at the epicenter of risk. This pandemic of misogyny and hatred needs to be tackled now. Even there, though, we can find strength. After all, you don’t really know who you really are until you’re forced to fight for it,” she said.
Ressa also emphasized that the “surveillance capitalism” of internet companies has real-life consequences that threaten the independence of markets and even national elections.
“What happens on social media doesn’t stay on social media. Online violence is real-world violence,” she said.
She mentioned how, as a result of huge disinformation and historical distortion efforts, dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is a front-runner in the country’s 2022 presidential race.
“How can you have election integrity if you don’t have integrity of facts?” she said.
The Nobel awardee called for the formation of institutions and legislation that would safeguard the values of journalism in the age of social media where hate and disinformation exploded like “an invisible atom bomb.”
“We need information ecosystems that live and die by facts,” she said. “We do this by shifting social priorities to rebuild journalism for the 21st century while regulating and outlawing the surveillance economics that profit from hate and lies.”
She also called for the support of independent journalism and standing up against “states which target journalists.”
Ressa has been served 10 arrest warrants in the last two years and is currently facing six active cases. Before her flight to Oslo, Solicitor General Jose Calida tried to block the Court of Appeals from granting Ressa a court approval to receive her award. Calida called Ressa a “flight risk” for “her recurring criticisms of the Philippine legal processes in the international community.”
Nevertheless, the journalist in Ressa remains steadfast.
“Democracy has become a woman-to-woman, man-to-man defense of our values,” she said. “We’re at a sliding door moment, where we can continue down the path we’re on and descend further into fascism or we can choose to fight for a better world.“ DZUP
Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, became the first independent Filipino Nobel laureate, jointly receiving the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.
She is the first Filipina and 18th woman out of 58 awardees to receive the award in its 126-year history.
Between 1901 and 2021, the Peace Prize was awarded 102 times to 137 Nobel Prize laureates across its five recognized fields—chemistry, literature, physics, physiology or medicine, and peace.
Nominated by Norwegian Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, Ressa was cited for her drive to “to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
The pair was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for leading their respective groundbreaking pursuits for freedom of expression.
“Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time,” said Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen.
In a conversation with Rappler shortly after receiving the award, Ressa recounted how her news organization fervently stood against the test of time and attacks on press freedom.
“This is my 35th year as a journalist. I’m old, and I think it helped that I was old along with the other co-founders of Rappler. We knew why we were doing what we were doing, we understood [the] standards and ethics of journalism.
“And so when we came under attack, there wasn’t really any other choice. The phrase we use is “hold the line,” because here’s the line, on this side you’re good, on this side you’re evil.”
Ressa also highlighted how Philippine journalism should persistently be empowered to continue moving forward despite countless adversities.
“The journalists will continue doing our jobs, but there are always repercussions if you do a story someone doesn’t like [..] Journalists will keep doing those stories. That’s what I hope will give us more power to do this,” she said.
‘A thousand cuts’
As a renowned author, instructor, and acclaimed journalist, Ressa braved the ever-changing global sociopolitical climate in the practice of her craft as a journalist.
Her two published books, “Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center” in 2003, and “From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism” in 2013, delved deeply into the emergence of terrorism across Southeast Asian (SEA) nations.
She also served as an instructor for TV production and broadcast journalism at the UP Department of Broadcast Communication in the late ‘80s and taught the state of SEA press and politics at Princeton University in the United States.
In 2012, Ressa launched Rappler, an online news site with three fellow female founders overseeing 12 journalists and website developers.
From its humble beginnings as a Facebook page called MovePH a year earlier, Rappler grew under Ressa’s leadership into one of the nation’s most formidable and highly acclaimed pioneers in digital journalism.
As a staunch critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war, she was not spared from legal attacks spearheaded by the government.
Since 2018, Ressa and her team have faced a multitude of charges, cases, and arrests—all of which have been described as efforts by the administration to curtail Rappler’s bold and brazen brand of investigative journalism.
In her proverbial 2020 documentary “A Thousand Cuts,” which sheds light on the death of democracy and the fight for free press in the Philippines, Ressa bared her lingering thoughts on the oppressive optics of the Duterte administration.
“We have to realize that something horrific has already happened, and we are at this existential moment where, if nothing significant is done, journalism is only the first part. Journalism and democracy as we know it, is dead,” she explained.
“Every time I feel like I’m not doing my job, I work harder. The more the government harasses me and Rappler and other journalists, the more I think, ‘We must be missing a story […] What are we missing that they don’t want us to find?’” Ressa stressed.
Penetrating a ‘virtual’ democracy
In a conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Enriquez for her Broadcast Journalism 130 (Issues in Broadcast News and Public Affairs) class, Ressa shared what she considers as the three pillars of democracy today.
“If you don’t have facts, you can’t have truth. If you don’t have truth, you can’t have trust. If you don’t have these three, you cannot have a democracy,” she said.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate gave her two cents on the inevitable emergence and role of social media as a rapid information-spreading mechanism — one that is crucial in cultivating how people perceive society beyond the virtual realms.
She cites how online content tends to be heavily driven by lies and deceit, as social media platforms draw higher engagement rates through highly sensational and captivating misinformation to generate more profit on their end.
Moreover, Ressa reminded future media practitioners of the grim realities of the ‘battleground’ they are poised to enter and potentially thrive in.
“You are choosing to come in at one of the worst times in the Philippines to be a journalist,” she said. “[This] is creative destruction — everything has been destroyed and it is time to create.”
“When it is a battle for facts, it is a battle for truth. Journalism becomes activism […] The insidious manipulation that’s happening on social media is happening with impunity.”
In the fervent quest to dismantle the shackles of curtailment and suppression in the country, Ressa imparted a profound message on journalism, more than a craft, as a lifelong commitment and manifestation of courage for freedom, for democracy, and for the people.
“The quality I look for more than anything is courage, because if you are afraid, then you’ll wind up moving somewhere else. You have to understand the role you play as a journalist […] it’s almost like a religious calling. That’s the reason why so many of us have given our lives to this,” she highlighted.
“Right now, whether I go to jail or not, I think depends on what I do right now as a journalist […] What you do as a journalist will make Filipinos care or not care, but you [always] have to find the courage inside yourself.” DZUP
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