Maria Ressa urges journalists: Join battle vs attempts to stifle press freedom

Sofia Tomacruz
'The way we fight back as journalists is we shine the light. We call attention, we demand our rights,' says Maria Ressa

PRESS FREEDOM. Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was arrested upon her arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on March 29, 2019 over alleged violation of the anti-dummy law. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa called on journalists worldwide to fight against attempts to stifle press freedom as media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned of “an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.”

Ressa made the appeal in a video message recorded by the Washington Post and aired at the launch of RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index on Thursday, April 19.

“The way we fight back as journalists is we shine the light. We call attention, we demand our rights,” Ressa said.

The veteran Philippine journalist described how journalists all over the world were being attacked, often enabled by technology through social media.

“A lie told a million times is the truth and then that comes and sandwiches us with top down statements by authoritarian style leaders attacking not just our work, but us,” Ressa said.

Ressa and Rappler have become the target of online harassment campaigns for its critical reporting on some of the Duterte administration’s policies.

“We’ve seen cheap armies on social media rolling back democracy all around the world…. How do we fight back? With the facts, with data. That gives us the grounding to be able to push back and demand our rights,” Ressa said in her message.

RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index saw the Philippines slip one spot lower from 133rd place in 2018 to 134th out of 180 countries in 2019. RSF attributed the country’s lower ranking to the Duterte government’s continued threats against journalists, which are “accompanied by coordinated cyber-attacks.”

“The World Press Freedom Index is a thermometer – a global thermometer of the state of the battle. Where are we winning? Where are we losing? How do we fight back? You in the room today, my survival depends on your attention…. Please join us in this battle,” Ressa said. 

Ressa is facing a string of cases in the Philippines as the Duterte administration slams Rappler for its critical coverage. Ressa has since posted bail 8 times and has been arrested twice.

Amid the ongoing attacks against Rappler, Ressa has been recognized as a beacon of press freedom around the world, and has a received a number of prestigious awards.

Most recently, Ressa was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2019. It comes after the magazine also named Ressa as “Time Person of the Year” in 2018, alongside several other journalists under siege in their countries. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.