Maria Ressa receives Columbia Journalism Award

MANILA, Philippines – Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa received the 2019 Columbia Journalism Award on Thursday morning, May 23 (Manila time), at the Columbia Journalism School in New York City.

Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll presented the university’s highest honor to Ressa during the graduation ceremony of the school’s class of 2019. The recipient of the award is voted on by the faculty “for singular journalistic performance in the public interest.”

Coll said Ressa was recognized by the school’s faculty for “the depth and quality” of her work as well as her “courage and persistence in the field.”

“She’s needed this courage because the Duterte regime in the Philippines has filed something like a dozen cases against her organization and she continues to publish and to push into all of the places where journalism is desperately needed to illuminate both the causes of violence and the sources of disinformation, not just there but across Asia,” Coll said.

Ressa was also the keynote speaker of the graduation ceremony. In introducing her to the graduating class of 2019, Coll said Ressa, has been honored around the world for her “courage in fighting disinformation and for her unwillingness to be silenced under pressure.”

Ressa is facing a string of cases in the Philippines as the Duterte administration slams Rappler for its critical coverage. The Philippine government has filed 11 cases against Ressa, Rappler, and its reporters in a span of 14 months. Ressa has since posted bail 8 times and has been arrested twice.

 In her keynote speech, Ressa urged the class of 2019 to have courage when battling for the truth.

“You are graduating at this crucial moment in history when journalists all around the world are under attack because we hold the line. Because we live our mission. Because as Time magazine wrote, we are the guardians of truth,” Ressa said.

“The battle for truth – this is at the heart of protecting our democracies…. Please don’t accept the world as you see it today. Our information ecosystem is broken. A virus has been unleashed in this global body politik and it is slowly killing us. I wish you the courage to lead the way in finding a global solution,” she added.

“You’re coming of age at a time that matters. What you do matters. What you report and how you fight for truth matters. Our future now depends on you…. Dream of a better future then go and make it happen,” Ressa said.

Holding up the sky

Amid the ongoing attacks against Rappler, Ressa has been recognized as a beacon of press freedom around the world. She said the challenging times emphasize the need for journalists with “purpose and the courage of convictions.” (READ:Maria Ressa urges journalists: Join battle vs attempts to stifle press freedom)

“The only way you will stick to the ideals you have now is if you define this now. Before you’re tested, know your whys to figure out the what,” Ressa urged.

“All I do is put one foot in front of the other. Hold up the sky so my team can continue to work. It’s just my bad luck that the baton was passed to me at this time. This is the time when standards and ethics matter. This is the time that determines who you really are,” Ressa said.

As she ended her speech, Ressa shared that in facing these trials, she finds hope in Rappler and Filipinos. She urged the graduating class to “live according to the values” of journalism.

Ressa said: “I find hope from Rapplers. This award belongs to them. The way our sales and research teams defined a new business model.... The way they used data to fight back. The way our young reporters stand up to power and continue reporting. They are creating the future today, and they inspire me.”

“I find hope from the grandfather who came up to me at the airport with his grandson, and with tears in his eyes, asked me what will happen to our country. Or the family that asked to take a photo and then hugged me as if I was a long-lost daughter, sending their support to Rappler,” she added.

Ressa has received a number of prestigious awards for her work in fighting disinformation and defending press freedom.

Among the several awards Ressa has received include the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and New Publishers, the Knight International Journalism award from the International Center for Journalists and the Gwen Ifill press freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Ressa was also earlier named Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ in 2018 and one of its ‘Time 100 most influential people of 2019.

The Columbia Journalism Award has been given annually since 1958.

It’s past recipients include journalists David Halberstam, Ben Bradlee, Pete Hamill, Joan Didion, Walter Cronkite, Alan Rusbridger, Nina Totenbeg, Lyse Doucet, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Ira Glass. – 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.

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