Maria Ressa says she didn’t take Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seriously when he declared four years ago that “corrupt” journalists weren’t “exempted from assassination.”
“In 2016, it was really, really laughable. And I thought, ‘Oh, doesn’t matter.’ I laughed, ” said the country’s most well-known journalist and leader of the independent Rappler news organisation.
Grim reality set in as Ressa was arrested and thrown in jail, targeted in a series of criminal cases and convicted this summer on libel and tax evasion charges seen widely as attacks on press freedom.
She now faces six years in prison.
A Thousand Cuts, a new documentary from Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz, tracks Ressa’s dual life in recent years.
She’s seen smiling while accepting international media awards and praise from the likes of George Clooney, then grimly facing down online harassment, legal action and real world threats for Rappler’s reporting on extradjudicial killings in Duterte’s drug war.
The film argues that Americans should learn from the recent history of the Philippines, where social media has helped to divide the country and critical press outlets are regularly lambasted by the country’s president.
ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV network, was shut down by the government’s telecommunications regulator in May.
Promoting the film in a Zoom interview from her home in Manila, Ressa shook her fists and laughed with dark humour – “Urgh! Angry!” – about what she called her “war of attrition” with the government.
“You don’t know how powerful government is until you come under attack the way we have.
When all the different parts of government work against you – it’s kind of shocking, ” she said.
Facebook has become the centre of the Internet for most Filipinos, and Rappler utilised it to grow rapidly as a startup news site.
But the film shows how Duterte’s populist campaign harnessed the platform to spread its message and target Ressa and other journalists.
Duterte supporters live-streamed protests at the Rappler office, and death threats flooded the comments alongside red heart emojis.
Diaz, who spoke from her home in Baltimore, hopes her film can help protect Ressa – and other independent journalists.
“There are very many Marias around the world. And that’s why it’s key to keep the story of press freedom... and the importance of independent media alive.” — AP
Did you find this article insightful?