International

Maria Rasa: The Philippine Pillar of Press Freedom

By AFP

Manil: Maria Russa, a veteran Philippine journalist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday has become a symbol of the fight for freedom of the press in the era of powerful leaders.

The former CNN bureau chief founded the news website Rapper in 2012, bringing together multimedia reporting and social media to offer a critical look at current events in the Philippines and the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ressa and the rapper have faced multiple criminal charges and investigations after publishing stories critical of the firebrand leader and their bloody drug war.

He was already named Time Person of the Year in 2018 for his work on freedom of the press, but the arrest further raised his international profile and brought more attention to his case.

Her reporting has led to a grinding series of criminal charges, two arrests and a flurry of online threats against her and the rapper, media advocates say.

The website has struggled for existence as Duterte’s government has accused it of violating constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership in securing funds as well as defamation and tax evasion.

Duterte has attacked the rapper under the name of a “fake news outlet” over the story of a close colleague.

Although the government has said it has nothing to do with any of the cases against it, press freedom advocates disagree.

Yet the 58-year-old has remained in the Philippines through her campaign against Resa and continues to speak out against Duterte’s government despite the risks.

“I am not the only reporter,” Resa told AFP in an interview last year. “My job is to hold the roof, that’s for a while… so that our men can continue to work.”

– ‘Shooted and threatened’ –
In the most recent case, the second defamation charge against Resa was dismissed in August. Another defamation charge against him was dismissed in June.

Ressa’s position at the head of the rapper news site meant, by his own estimate, at one point in late 2016 he was receiving 90 abusive messages online per hour.

The threats came months after Duterte came to power and launched his own drug crackdown, which killed thousands.

The rapper was one of a number of domestic and foreign outlets that published shocking photos of the murders and questioned its legal basis.

But Resa’s arrest will not happen until early 2019.

The first was in February and the defamation case was over, then the second came less than two months later on allegations the rapper violated laws by barring foreign ownership of the media.

Because of the string of defamation and tax cases against him and the rapper, Resa says he had to bail eight times in a span of about three months.

It was a whole new set of threats for Ressa, a veteran of conflict zones before the rapper co-founded.

“I started as a reporter in 1986 and I’ve worked in many countries around the world, I’ve been shot and threatened but this kind of death has never happened with a thousand cuts,” Resa said. said.

As CNN’s former bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, Resa specializes in terrorism, where she tracked links between global networks such as al-Qaeda and terrorists in Southeast Asia.

The Princeton graduate, who holds both American and Philippine citizenship, later returned to the Philippines to serve as head of news at ABS-CBN, the country’s top broadcaster.

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