Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa still doesn’t know whether she can travel to Oslo

Investigative journalist Maria Ressa, of the Philippines, speaks with a reporter from The Associated Press, during an interview at the Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Ressa, co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, spoke on issues including press freedom during the interview. (AP Photo / Josh Reynolds)

One month after it became known that she won the Nobel Peace Prize, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa says that much in her life is still highly uncertain.

Will her fight against a defamation lawsuit in the Philippines lead to a prison sentence? Will she be able to travel to Norway to receive her prestigious award next month? When is the next time she can see her family?

“Do you know the painting The Scream?” Ressa asked, holding her hands to her face and roaring into the existential void to illustrate the work of Edvard Munch.

“I wake up like that every day.”

In an interview connected to an event at Harvard University, she said that her situation is as unclear now as before the Nobel Peace Prize announcement.

“I do not know where it will lead. But I know that if we continue to do our job, stick to the task, keep the line, there is a greater chance that democracy will not only survive, but that I will also stay out of prison,” she said in the interview, done for with Harvard’s annual Salant Lecture on Freedom of the Press.

“I know that I have not done anything wrong except to be a journalist, and that is the price we have to pay. I wish it was not me, but it is,” she said.

Maria Ressa
Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa speaking to reporters outside the Court of Tax Appeals in Manila on March 4, 2021. Photo: AP Photo/Aaron Favila, file

Criticizes social media

The 58-year-old co-founded Rappler, a Manila-based news site. She worries about what the elections next year in the Philippines, the United States, and elsewhere will bring.

She also called out major social media companies for failing to act as gatekeepers as misinformation continues to spread virtually unchecked on their platforms. It gives oppressive regimes, including in Myanmar, the opportunity to threaten democratic institutions, she believes.

“If you do not have the facts, you cannot have the truth. You cannot trust. You do not have a shared reality,” she said.

“So how do we solve these existential problems – the rise of fascism, coronavirus, climate change – if we do not agree on the facts? This is basic.”

Ressa, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, is the first journalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in more than 80 years. She is now ending a month-long stay as a guest fellow at Harvard.

Risks six years in prison

Ressa is visiting her parents in Florida and celebrating Thanksgiving before returning to the Philippines. This is the first time she is returning after being sentenced to prison last summer for libel. The ruling was seen as a major setback to global press freedom.

The case was appealed, and in the meantime, Ressa is free from bail. However, she risks up to six years in prison. In addition, several other lawsuits are pending against her.

Prior to her stay in the United States, she was denied a number of other travel requests by Philippine courts. Among other things, she was not allowed to visit her sick mother. Ressa must also get the court’s approval to participate in the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo on December 10.

Ressa was born in the Philippine capital Manila. She grew up mainly in the United States, before moving back to the Philippines to work as a journalist.

“You do not know how free you are until you start to lose your freedom, or you have to ask people about your freedoms.”

Nobel peace prize medal award
Oslo, October 8, 2021: Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee, announces that journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB

Bulletproof vest

Rappler started her journalism career in 2012. Her site quickly became known for its news stories about President Rodrigo Duterte‘s bloody, years-long battle against illegal drugs.

The news organization has also documented how social media is used to spread fake news, harass opponents, and manipulate public discourse.

Ressa also reflected on the strains she is exposed to in her everyday life and in her private life. In the Philippines, she occasionally wore a bulletproof vest when she was out in public. She begged Facebook to delete violent posts against her as death threats increased.

Especially for female journalists, attacks on social media quickly become threatening, Ressa said. She has received about half a million cyberattacks – around 60% were aimed at her credibility, while 40 percent were more personal.

“It is meant to tear down my courage,” she said.

“There are moments when you say to yourself: ‘Why? Why does it take so much?’ But the costs of not doing the right thing are far greater than the consequences for one person.”

Source: ©️ NTB Scanpix / #NorwayTodayTravel

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