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The Philippines

Fierce Duterte critic Maria Ressa is one of Time’s ‘Persons of the Year’

  • The Rappler editor is one of the defiant journalists recognised by Time as its ‘Person of the Year’
  • She says will continue to stand up to the Duterte administration despite its alleged campaign to discredit her
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 12:33am

The Philippines’ Maria Ressa – one of the persecuted journalists recognised by Time magazine as its “Person of the Year” – still believes social media can save democracy.

Ressa, 55, a former war correspondent who was also the CNN bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, co-founded the online news site Rappler in 2012. The site has been outspoken in its criticism of the Philippines government, particularly President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

Ressa was recently charged with five cases of tax fraud, which many in the country see as a reaction to Rappler’s reporting. The New York-based NGO Committee to Protect Journalists has called the case a direct assault on press freedom.

“Part of the reason the government is attacking us is we show data-based evidence that officials were complicit in the spreading of hate,” Ressa told the South China Morning Post.

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, one of Duterte’s fiercest critics, remains defiant despite arrest

The Duterte administration in January moved to revoke Rappler’s licence as scrutiny of the news site intensified in the Philippines, where its credibility has been attacked on social media on the basis of what Ressa has said is misinformation spread by the government.

After an arrest warrant was issued for Ressa, she turned herself in and was released on bail in one case of alleged tax evasion. This week, she prepaid bail in the Philippines in advance of another arrest warrant.

While embroiled in these domestic disputes, Ressa has received a series of global awards this year from press freedom advocates applauding her fight against what she calls “two fronts – the Philippines government, and Facebook – which seed violence, fear, and lies that poison our democracy”.

The country’s congress on Wednesday approved Duterte’s move to extend martial law in the state of Mindanao for another year, which analysts say is evidence of the decline of democracy in the archipelago.

Facebook – from which an estimated 80 per cent of internet users in the Philippines get their news information – in October took down more than 100 pages and accounts, some linked to Duterte, for violating its spam and authenticity policies.

“The reason we set up Rappler in the first place was to try to use new tech to jump-start development,” she said, emphasising that she still believes technology and social media can be used to build a more democratic society. “That dream is still there.”

The other journalists recognised by Time magazine were Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October; the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland, where five employees were killed in a mass shooting in June; and journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for nearly a year for their work exposing the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims.

Duterte’s martial law extension renews fears of authoritarianism in the Philippines

Luis Teodoro, a board member of Philippines NGO Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said the country has been distinguished by the number of journalists who have been killed for their work in the past 30 years. There have been 80 journalists murdered in the Philippines since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Silence is consent,” Ressa said last month when accepting the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, as she encouraged journalists to keep publishing without fear. “I’m on the tail end of my career. I’m not going to risk who I am, and neither will Rappler.

“We decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will feel that we did everything we could. We did not duck, and we did not hide. We are Rappler, and we will hold the line.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press


This article was updated on 21 December, 2018, to clarify that a warrant was issued for Maria Ressa's arrest.