Filipino Journalist Reflects on Nobel Prize Win at Harvard

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — A month after being named the first Filipina to win the Nobel Peace Prize, journalist Maria Ressa says a lot still remains uncertain about her life.

Will his battle against a defamation lawsuit in the Philippines result in a prison sentence? Will she be able to travel to Norway to receive her prestigious award next month? When will she be able to see her family next?

“Do you know the painting The Scream? Ressa said Tuesday night, holding her hands to her face and pretending to blow into the existential void like the famous work of Edvard Munch. “I wake up every day like this.”

“I don’t know where this will lead,” she continued in an interview at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shortly before delivering the university’s annual Salant Lecture on freedom of the hurry. “But I know that if we keep doing our job, staying on mission, staying the course, there’s a better chance that not only will our democracy survive, but that I’ll stay out of jail as well. Because I I haven’t done anything wrong except be a journalist, and that’s the price I have to pay. I wish it wasn’t me, but it is.

The 58-year-old co-founder of Rappler, a Manila-based news site, says she didn’t lose her speech at Harvard just hours after American journalist Danny Fenster’s emotional reunion with his family in New York after his negotiated release. from Myanmar under military control, where he had spent six months in prison for his work.

“It shows how quickly he is falling apart. The ground we are on is quicksand,” she said. “Power can do whatever it wants.”

Ressa worries about what next year’s elections in the Philippines, the United States and elsewhere will bring.

She attacked US social media companies for failing to act as gatekeepers as disinformation continues to proliferate virtually unchecked on their platforms, allowing repressive regimes like those in Myanmar and elsewhere to thrive and threaten democratic institutions.

“If you don’t have facts, you can’t 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, who along with co-winner and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov became the first working journalist in more than 80 years to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is finishing a month-long stint as a visiting scholar at Harvard .

She says she is looking forward to visiting her parents in Florida for Thanksgiving next week before returning to the Philippines. It is the first time she has been out of the country since she was convicted last summer of defamation and sentenced to prison in a decision seen as a blow to press freedom in the world.

Ressa has remained free on bail while this case is on appeal, but faces up to six years in prison, not to mention a series of other active court cases against her.

Ahead of this month’s trip, she had a number of other travel requests denied by Philippine courts, including one she said was to visit her sick mother. Ressa will also need to get court approval to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10.

“It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” said Ressa, who was born in Manila but grew up mostly 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 losing your freedom, or you have to ask people for your freedoms.”

At Harvard, Ressa met faculty and students, gave lectures, and researched an upcoming book.

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

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

In the Philippines, she had taken to wearing a bulletproof vest sometimes in public and had pleaded with Facebook to remove violent posts against her as death threats mounted.

For female journalists in particular, Ressa said, attacks on social media quickly become threatening. Of around half a million online attacks she received, some 60% were against her credibility while 40% were more personal and “intended to bring my mind down”, she said.

“There are times when you wonder ‘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.