'In the middle of a battle,' journalist Maria Ressa, named among Time's Person of the Year, won't back down
'I'm not about to render my entire life and career meaningless by not standing up when it matters,' Ressa says
Criticism of the bloody drug war in the Philippines has been stymied by lies and aggression on social media, according to one of the journalists honoured among Time Magazine's Person of the Year.
Since his election in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has reportedly resulted in the extrajudicial killings of 4,500 people, as police crack down on suspected drug dealers.
Anyone who questioned the violence online was subjected to "exponential attacks on Facebook," said Maria Ressa, a long-time investigative journalist, and CEO of the Filipino news website Rappler.
"It created this spiral of silence," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
Those attacks are also mirrored by attacks "in the real world against anyone who challenges, who tries to hold power to account," she added.
"This is information warfare against the Filipino people."
On Monday, Ressa was announced among Time Magazine's Person of the Year, under the theme of the "guardians and the war on truth."
She shared the honour with three other journalists and a newspaper:
- Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
- Reuters journalists Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo, imprisoned in Myanmar over their reporting on violence against the Rohingya.
- The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., where five people were shot and killed at the newspaper's offices in June.
Ressa said that Time's decision highlights an "existential moment, for both journalism and — because we're the front line in the battle for democracy — democracies themselves."
"We're in the middle of a battle."
Ressa believes that before the risk of social media, journalists performed the role of gatekeepers for information, ensuring they didn't spread lies and propaganda. She wants social media platforms to take a similar responsibility for the information shared on their sites.
"They have to realize that now that they've become the world's largest distributor of news, that they also must take over our responsibility as gatekeepers," she said.
"They need to make decisions about fact and fiction."
Standing up to power
Ressa and her site Rappler are frequent critics of Duterte and his policies.
Last month, she was charged with tax evasion after Rappler was reclassified as a securities dealer.
"I'm not a stockbroker in any way, but they said, 'Well, since you are a dealer in securities, you owe all of these taxes,' and that's not the case," she told CBC Radio's Day 6.
Ressa said the charges are meant to silence her. She is currently out on bail, and vowing to fight on.
"I'm not about to render my entire life and career meaningless by not standing up when it matters."
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
Produced by John Chipman.