WATCH: Sheila Coronel introduces Maria Ressa at the CPJ 2018 awards
Columbia University Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism director Sheila Coronel introduces Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa, who was conferred the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists on November 20, 2018
Below is Coronel's speech.
Maria Ressa carries the torch of press freedom in a country held in thrall by a populist president. That president has called journalists "bullshit," "garbage," "sons of bitches." He says we are corrupt hypocrites who "pretend to be the moral torch of the country."
That country is not the US; the president, not Donald Trump. It’s the Philippines and its popular leader Rodrigo Duterte. Like Trump, Duterte considers the press an enemy. But unlike the US president, Duterte doesn’t just get mad. He gets even.
Duterte has thrown the entire playbook of “How to Attack The Press” at Maria and at Rappler, the feisty news site she founded. They’ve been sued multiple times, accused of evading taxes, violating the anti-dummy law that bans foreign media ownership, and something called “cyberlibel.” Maria faces up to 10 years in prison for a tax evasion charge filed just the other week.
I first met Maria after Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986. That was a hopeful time and journalists were basking in the new freedoms. Since then, the Philippines has lurched from one crisis to another, but through it all, Maria has kept an unflinching and sometimes maddening optimism. The words hopeful and journalist don’t often go together, but that’s Maria.
Maria was born in the Philippines, migrated with her family to the US, studied molecular biology AND theater at Princeton, and then returned to Manila in the 80s. She’s been a reporter, news anchor and executive for Philippine TV, and at CNN, where she was Manila and Jakarta bureau chief. She’s also written two books on terrorism in Southeast Asia
In 2012, Maria founded Rappler. Fearless and spunky, Rappler uses the web and social media to reach out to a millennial audience.
In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected, promising to wipe out drug-related crime. It will be bloody, he warned. The funeral parlors will be packed. Fish in Manila Bay would feast on the carcasses of criminals. He has kept his promise. Thousands have been killed, many among them the poorest in society.
Rappler – and Maria – stood up to Duterte. They showed how he weaponized the Internet – unleashing fake news and troll armies. They exposed police impunity in the war on drugs. They told the truth - and so made enemies.
Trolls have threatened Maria with rape and death. Today there is an armed guard outside the Rappler office, and when in Manila, Maria carries bail money in her purse, in case of arrest. Rappler’s reporter has been banned from the presidential palace, but she continues to critically report on Duterte. Others have been cowed by threats. Not Rappler and not Maria.
The Philippines, despite its problems, used to be the torchbearer for press freedom and openness in Asia. Maria and her team are a shining example of principled resistance to the erosion of democratic norms. They have also shown how a newsroom led by women can stand up to a misogynist president.
Gwen Ifill commanded respect for her courage and integrity. She would have found in Maria a kindred spirit. It is a great honor and pleasure to present the Gwen Ifill award to Maria Ressa.
Watch Maria Ressa's speech below. Click here for the full text.