Maria Ressa receives journalism award, appeals to tech giants, government officials

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Maria Ressa receives journalism award, appeals to tech giants, government officials
'Consider making the same tough business decisions our little company made to protect the public sphere and to ensure democracy survives,' Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa says after accepting the Knight International Journalism Award in Washington, DC

MANILA, Philippines – Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa received the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award on Friday morning, November 9 (Manila time) in Washington, DC, for Rappler’s innovation and exposés on corruption despite the obstacles thrown its way.

Ressa joined 3 other awardees during the annual dinner of the International Center for Journalists at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, such as Joseph Poliszuk, editor in chief, of Venezuela (2018 Knight International Journalism Award); Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr, chairman, The New York Times Company (2018 Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism); and Nima Elbagir, senior international correspondent, CNN London (2018 Excellence in International Reporting Award).

Below is the text of Ressa’s acceptance speech that was met with a standing ovation. (WATCH: ICFJ Awards Night)

Thank you for recognizing our work at Rappler. 

It comes at a crucial time when our organization and Philippine democracy are fighting to survive.

We’ve written a lot about our two battle fronts: a brutal drug war, tens of thousands killed; and, the exponential lies on social media to incite hate and stifle free speech.

We battle impunity from the Philippine government and Facebook. Both seed violence, fear, and lies that poison our democracy.

Those lies on social media formed the basis of the government’s legal cases against us.

They tried to shut us down at the beginning of the year, alleging we’re foreign-owned (we’re not), that we’re tax evaders (months after the tax agency recognized us for being one of the corporate taxpayers), along with other more ridiculous charges. I’ve run out of synonyms for the word ridiculous.

Why should you care?

Our problems are fast becoming your problems. Boundaries around the world collapse and we can begin to see a kind of global playbook. When President Trump banned Jim Acosta last night, he followed President Duterte’s actions against our reporter Pia Ranada and me. I haven’t reported but I’m also banned from the Palace from early this year. Of course when Trump called CNN and the New York Times fake news, Duterte also called Rappler fake news.

Power corrupts. It coerces. And coopts.

I feel this deeply because I run a business. And while numbers are important (and we must survive and we will find a sustainable business model), I know that I, my colleagues and the founders of Rappler, have made really bad business decisions because we protect the public interest – the mission that is at the heart of why I became a journalist in the first place. I won’t betray that.

In my country now, good investigative journalism is bad business. And it comes at a time when the business model of our global industry is crumbling.

In 2017, 90% of new digital ad spend went to Google and Facebook.

Now the social media tech giants – I’ve many friends in both – are the world’s largest distributor of news. Yet, they shy away from the responsibilities that come with that – and that has global impact and we’re living through it: allowing authoritarian-style leaders to use their platforms to cripple trust, remold truth, and consolidate their power.

This has been a very, very humbling year for me. It has challenged everything I believe in.

I come out of it with 3 appeals for the future:

  • To the men and women who work in governments like mine using a scorched-earth policy to grow and retain power, appealing to the worst of human nature: you have the power to stop the erosion of democracy and maintain the rule of law. Your silence means consent. Don’t let your ambition or your fear cripple the values of our next generation.
  • To the social media platforms: your business model has divided societies and weakened democracies. Personalization says my reality is different from yours. And we can all have our realities. But all these realities have to coexist in the public sphere. You can’t tear us apart to the point that we don’t agree on the facts. Why, why should you allow lies to spread? Yes, it’s a great responsibility, but this is not a matter of free speech. It’s a gate-keeping role once wielded by human journalists. As we have seen time and again, online hate leads to real world violence. Consider making the same tough business decisions our little company made to protect the public sphere and ensure democracy survives.
  • To the journalists and activists who continue to fight: we have to stay the course. Sometimes people say, we’re naive or foolish. We’re not. These times require that. Because without hope, we have no energy to move forward. So we have to take the long view and work together. No, we’re not alone. This is a global battle.

Despite the reporting I’ve done in war zones and conflict areas, I’ve always believed in the goodness of human nature. I think we are basically good. That has never been tested as much as it is today. But it is one of my fundamental values – a choice to find hope for a better future.

This is why we created Rappler. To our shareholders, to the Filipinos who invested – our all-Filipino shareholders – as well as Marcus Brauchli, North Base Media, and Omidyar Network: thank you for believing in our vision for an innovative, free, and independent media. I’m sorry that because you’re friends of mine and you believe in us, you’re in trouble with us.

These times force us to define exactly who we are, what values we live by, and what lines we will not cross…nor allow others to cross.

Thank you to the people in this room, the International Center for Journalists and the Knight Foundation, for supporting international journalism – and recognizing and renewing the hope that powers our reporting and keeps us going.

To our team in Rappler, this is yours. For every story that holds power to account, for every day we survive, for every time we avoid cynicism.

We are Rappler, and we will hold the line.


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