Journalist Maria Ressa reflects on the Nobel Peace Prize

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – Maria Ressa says much remains unclear about her life in the month since she became the very first Filipina and the first working journalist in over 80 years to win the Nobel Peace Prize .

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – Maria Ressa says much remains unclear about her life in the month since she became the very first Filipina and the first working journalist for over 80 years at win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Will his fight against a defamation lawsuit in the Philippines lead to jail time? Will she be able to travel to Norway to accept her prestigious award next month? When can she see her family next time?

“Do you know the painting” Le Cri? “” Ressa said Tuesday night, holding her hands to her face and mocking howling in the existential void like the famous work of Edvard Munch. “I wake up like this everyday.”

“I don’t know where this will lead,” Ressa continued in an interview with the Associated Press at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shortly before handing over the university’s report. Salant Annual Conference on freedom of the press. “But I know that if we keep doing our job, staying on mission, holding the line, there is a better chance that our democracy will not only survive, but I will also stay out of jail. Because I haven’t done anything wrong except being a journalist. This is the price we have to pay. “

His Harvard speech came just hours after American journalist Danny Fenster spoke emotional reunion with his family in New York after his negotiated release from military-controlled Myanmar, where he had spent six months in prison for his work.

“It shows how quickly he collapses. The ground we are on is quicksand, ”the 58-year-old co-founder of Rappler, a Manila-based news site, said of the Fenster ordeal. “Power can do what it wants.”

Ressa is worried about what next year’s elections in the Philippines, the United States and elsewhere will bring. She criticizes American social media companies as disinformation continues to proliferate on their platforms, allowing repressive regimes to thrive and threaten democratic institutions.

“If you don’t have the facts, you cannot have the truth. You cannot be trusted. You don’t have a shared reality, ”she said. “So how do we solve these existential problems – the rise of fascism, the coronavirus, climate change – if we don’t agree on the facts? It is fundamental. “

Ressa said U.S. policymakers should revise key sections of federal internet law and the international community should take further action.

“You need to look at algorithms that prioritize the spread of theories of lies, hatred, anger and conspiracy,” she said. “Let’s cut it upstream. Not downstream, where it becomes contained and you run into all the freedom of speech issues.

Ressa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, is completing a month-long stay as a visiting scholar at Harvard. This is the first time she left the country since she was sentenced last summer defamation and sentenced to prison in a decision considered to be a hard blow to freedom of the press in the world.

Ressa, who has been on bail while the case is on appeal, says she can’t wait to spend Thanksgiving in Florida with her parents, whom she hasn’t seen in two years. Then it is the return to Manila, where she faces up to six years in prison, not to mention a series of other active legal cases against her.

It is also not certain that Ressa will get court approval to travel again next month to attend the Nobel Prize giving ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Ahead of this month’s trip, Philippine courts have rejected a number of other travel requests, including one she said was to visit her ailing mother.

“It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” said Ressa, who was born in Manila but raised mainly in the United States before returning to the Philippines and embarking on a career as a journalist. “You don’t know how free you are until you start to lose your freedom, or you have to ask people for your freedoms.”

At Harvard, Ressa met professors and students, lectured, and researched for a forthcoming book.

She co-founded Rappler in 2012, and the website quickly gained notoriety for its reporting on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs. The news agency also documented how social media is used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.

During Tuesday’s talk, which Ressa gave remotely from her hotel room due to potential COVID-19 exposure linked to the event on campus, she also reflected on her personal life toll. .

In the Philippines, she had occasionally worn a bulletproof vest in public and begged Facebook to remove violent posts against her as death threats increased.

For women journalists in particular, Ressa said, attacks on social media are quickly becoming threatening. Of about half a million online attacks she received, 60% were against her credibility while 40% were more personal and “aimed at demolishing me,” she said.

“There are times when you say to yourself, ‘Why? Why is he asking so much? Ressa said. “But the cost of not doing the right thing is far greater than the consequences for a person.”

Philip Marcelo, The Associated Press

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