I have watched Maria Ressa when she worked as CNN correspondent for many years before she left to co-found Rappler in the Philippines. When Duterte became president, that was when Maria and to a large extent, Rapper’s persecution by the Duterte government started.
Duterte started a so-called violent war against drugs. He unleashed gangs armed and empowered by the state to arrest, torture and kill harpless citizens suspected of either dealing in drugs or using them. The thugs and gangs are unaccountable. They were the law. Once they say you are into drugs, you would have no chance to deny nor defend yourself. You are killed and dumped. Some citizens have gone missing as a result. So many families have no closure.
The state-sponsored terror continued as Duterte targeted and silenced opposition including jailing senators on trumped-up charges.
In this tense atmosphere someone needed to stand up to be counted. That was when Maria and her team of young journalists stood up in the public interest to hold the Duterte government to account. To document and expose the facts of these cold-blooded murders by state agents and in some cases unidentified gangs.
Anytime an innocent citizen is labeled a drug dealer and murdered, Rapper would investigate and report the facts, exposing the lies and depravity of the government led by Duterte.
Duterte and his goons then turned their attention on Maria and Rappler. Their offices would be raided countless times and Maria and some of her colleagues arrested and thrown into jail. I saw one video where Maria was being arrested at work and one brave reporter was recording it. One of the security people doing the arrest stopped him, but he won’t be moved. He could be heard in the video saying something like, “I’m doing my work. I am recording history. You can’t stop me”.
In 2019 while attending the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, Germany as one of the speakers, I met Maria. She was the keynote speaker. I could tell she is going through a lot. In a short conversation I had with her to express my support for her as a colleague, I could tell Maria drew a lot of energy from her religious beliefs to continue to remain resolute to the ideals of journalism as it should be in the face of the threats she faced everyday.
Maria Ressa is a standard for the highest form of journalism. She is not doing it for the money, nor the fame. She is doing it for journalism in the public interest.
Maria was later to give a moving and inspirational address that drew everyone present in the hall to their feet. For a woman under intense politically motivated pressure, with eminent jail time hanging over her head for doing her job, Maria exuded more inner strength and courage than could be expected.
When Maria started her speech, she was unequivocal.
“An attack on one is an attack on all,” she said.
“The first time I heard that was more than two decades ago, looking at the virulent ideology that powered al-Qaeda. That was what the terrorists used to justify their attacks. Then at a pivotal moment, when I was still just learning to deal with the new weapon against journalists, Julie Posetti, who’s in the audience now, convinced me that I should be speaking about these attacks on social media – and within 24 hours convinced me to do an interview for a book she was working on for UNESCO. Its title: An attack on one is an attack on all.
This is an existential moment in time – where, if we don’t take the right steps forward, democracy as we know it is dead.” She continued.
She can’t travel out of her country without seeking permission from the authorities.
She is being watched, intimidated, harassed, and humiliated for doing her job. Maria has shown by her commitment to the truth and the ideals of journalism that, journalists who do their work sincerely, are less likely to be the favourites of political office holders – elected and appointed. The evidence is strong in that regard. Journalists who hobnob with politicians can easily be used as accessories in the abuse of their own citizens. Politicians are often likely to find these kinds of journalists as conduits for spreading misinformation and falsehood.
Maria Ressa is a standard for the highest form of journalism. She is not doing it for the money, nor the fame. She is doing it for journalism in the public interest. It is therefore not surprising that she has been awarded a joint winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize together with Russian editor, Dmitry Muratov, whose journalists have been killed in the line of duty. Maria becomes the first Filipino to receive a Noble Peace Prize for her journalism.
This past week has been a glorious epoch in the history of journalism. The announcement of the Nobel Prize came days after the Pandora Papers was published. The over 600 journalists involved in the project included reporters at Rapplers.
The world and its systems would not survive without journalism. The importance of journalists and their work to the democratic process and a peaceful and orderly world cannot be overemphasized.
Bravo Maria, Dmitri and all the journalists who are standing up to be counted.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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