Filipino journalists need to hold the line together, says Rappler CEO Ressa

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2018 09:07 PM

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MANILA - Filipino journalists must come together and "build communities of action" on social media site Facebook, said Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

Ressa, named among the Guardians in the War on Truth in TIME Magazine's Person of the Year, said the mission of journalism is "more important today than ever."

"There is no middle line when power has already been abused. It’s like climate change, there are no 2 sides to an issue...Christiane Amanpour said this: You want to be truthful, not neutral," she told ANC's Headstart.

"Every journalist has to hold the line because we will only get weaker with time. We’re fighting the vast powers of government—and I’m not against President Duterte. I’m just doing my job and I ask the government to do its job and stop abusing its power," she said.

Ressa, founder and CEO of the online news agency, said the underlying foundation of a lot of the attacks on journalists have been manufactured on social media, on Facebook in particular.

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She said they have documented a "systemic attack" against journalists designed to break down traditional media's credibility and ultimately to "make Filipinos doubt the truth."

"When a lie is told a million times, it becomes truth and this is what we need to be vigilant against," she said.

Some 97 percent of the Filipinos get their news via Facebook, and while she recognizes that the the social media platform could be a force for good, especially in developing nations, Ressa said she has also seen the worst of it.

"This is the problem with what they do: they treat truth and lie, fact and fiction exactly the same way. And fiction spreads faster than the truth," she said.

Facebook is currently "the world’s largest distributor of news," and traditional news agencies lose to it on 2 grounds: losing audiences and draining the revenues. Yet the platform is not keen on performing journalism's main task, which is to be gatekeepers of truth.

"What they’re saying is they’re now the distributor, they now have the revenues but they don’t want the responsibility that human gatekeepers, the journalists, have always taken on as being part of being the distributor of news," she said.

"Without the gatekeepers, this chaos globally is what you’re getting," she added.

Ressa was recognized as a "guardian" in the war against truth alongside slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, jailed Myanmar journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the staff of the Capital Gazette in Maryland, which lost 5 of its staff in an attack last June.

Ressa, a former CNN bureau chief and ABS-CBN News executive, said she initially didn't know how to react to getting the recognition with the other journalists.

"The worst part is to know that we need to call attention to this because journalists are the front lines in a democracy. If journalists are under attack, that means democracy is under attack," she said.

But she believes the award shines a light on the situation in the Philippines, which is a good thing.

"While we all elected President Duterte, the abuses of power have been rampant, rule of law has been bent to the point that it’s been broken and it has been used as a weapon against what the government feels are its enemies. It’s not even backed with facts and I think that’s what the award says," she said.

"I hope that by focusing on the Philippines, everyone around the world realizes that the fight in the Philippines is important, not just in the physical world," she added.

The Securities and Exchange Commission in January revoked Rappler's certificate of incorporation for supposedly violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media after it "sold control to foreigners."

Rappler Holdings and Ressa face a separate set of tax charges before the Court of Tax Appeals and a Pasig regional trial court. A warrant of arrest was issued against Ressa while she was abroad to receive international awards.

On Monday, she paid cash bonds of P60,000 each for the three cases of violation of Section 255 of the tax code or failure to file tax returns, and P24,000 for one count of violation of Section 254 or attempt to evade payment of taxes.