Maria Ressa receives CPJ's press freedom award

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa received the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award on Wednesday morning, November 21 (Manila time) in New York City. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) presents the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award "to an individual who has shown extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom."

Aside from Ressa, the CPJ also honored 4 courageous journalists from around the world with the 2018 International Press Freedom Awards: Amal Khalifa Idris Habbani (Sudan), Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam), Luz Mely Reyes (Venezuela), and Anastasiya Stanko (Ukraine). 

Below is the text of Ressa's acceptance speech:

It's been an incredible experience these last few days here with the other IPFA awardees. It's an incredible honor to be here tonight, and it's also incredibly humbling. 

Thank you, Committee to Protect Journalists.

This comes at a time when Rappler and I need your attention and your support.

This is an existential moment for global power structures, turned upside down by technology.

When journalists globally are under attack.

When power structures are shifting.

Our problems in the Philippines are partly caused by your problems here:

  • American social media technology platforms, once empowering, now weaponized against journalists, activists, and citizens, spreading lies across borders; and,
  • A president so much like ours whose attacks against the press (and women) give permission to autocrats (like ours) to unleash the dark side of humanity and extend their already vast powers with impunity, especially in countries where institutions have crumbled.

We at Rappler fight impunity on these two fronts: the Philippine government, and Facebook, which is essentially our internet. Both seed violence, fear, and lies that poison our democracy.

Those lies seeded on social media form the basis of the government’s legal cases against us – they were planted and seeded a year before they erupted and the cases were filed. This latest tax evasion case reclassifies Rappler as "a dealer in securities." I'm obviously not a stockbroker, right? I would get paid more. 

Because I’m a journalist, I’m now labeled a criminal and can go to prison for 10 years.This announced indictment – my government has bent the law to its breaking point. It has perverted the rule of law and used it against journalists and perceived critics. Weaponized – like social media.

Facebook connects more than 3.2 billion people around the world, and because of that, national boundaries have collapsed. There is a global playbook. You see it, right? And autocrats are learning from each other. The most compromised accounts during Cambridge Analytica, for example, were here in the US, the second – in the Philippines.

When President Trump called CNN and the New York Times "fake news," a week later, President Duterte called Rappler "fake news." When President Trump took away the accreditation of CNN's Jim Acosta, he was following what President Duterte did earlier this year to our reporter. He also banned me from the Palace, even though I haven’t reported during his administration.

I want to share 6 lessons and appeals for action:

  1. The time to fight for journalism, for our Constitution – the Philippines' and yours – is now.

  2. Don’t stay quiet when you are attacked. The exponential lies on social media, coupled with the President’s words – yours and mine – manufacture truth. Silence is consent.

  3. We need to continue reporting without fear or favor. And – you heard these words here last year from my former colleague Christiane Amanpour: "We need to be truthful, not neutral."

  4. We need to build global alliances because information is the currency of power, now manipulated by global players. You have the Mueller investigation here. Well, if Russia is doing B2C, China is doing B2B. (Check out Freedom House’s report released this month which shows how China is exporting its digital authoritarianism to other countries. It's happening.)

  5. We need to hold tech platforms to account. They need to move away from just business growth. They are now the world’s largest distributor of news – they've taken that power away from us – so they have to take on the responsibilities journalists once had as gatekeepers. They cannot allow lies to spread. We cannot be torn apart so we cannot agree on the facts. They need to protect the public interest and the public sphere where democracy happens.

  6. Finally, for multinational businesses and investors, I'm being attacked not just as a journalist but as the founder of a company that's successfully and legally raised money to make an idea a reality. Let my government know that you do not agree with its draconian measures and the signal it sends to investors that the Philippines is not ready for innovation or investment.

For each of us in this room, it’s about values and principles.

Our mission, as journalists, it's very clear. Patricia Evangelista, who dedicated her life the past two years to the drug war and our impunity series, the drug war that has killed thousands to ten thousands, she's here. I want to ask her to stand up. Patricia, please stand up. 

My team, the women and men of Rappler – we're [mostly] women. There are two groups that are making our hashtag trend, it is CPJ and Rappler in the Philippines. You're being livestreamed there. They're watching this. This Gwen Ifill Award is really yours because our team has learned to live with these attacks, and they show up. They show up every day to fight back. This award is for them. 

You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it.

Then every battle you win or lose, every compromise you choose to make or to walk away from – all these struggles define the values you live by, and, ultimately, who you are.

We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: we did not duck, we did not hide.

We are Rappler, and we will hold the line.

– Rappler.com