Democracy Alert: Maria Ressa

Country: Philipinnes
June 16, 2020

The World Movement for Democracy joins the outcry from journalists around the world at the unjust conviction of Maria Ressa, CEO and executive editor of the Philippine news site, Rappler, and fellow journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr. on June 15. The Philippine government has long attacked Rappler for its independent reporting and investigations into government actions, but this conviction of Ressa, who has received many awards around the world for her journalism, is an escalation of its attacks on freedom of the press and free speech. Without these freedoms democracy cannot exist, and so the World Movement urges democratic leaders everywhere to demand that Rodrigo Duterte’s government change course.

Ressa and Santos were convicted of “cyber libel.” The charge resulted from a 2012 article Rappler published linking former chief justice Renato Corona to several businessmen, one of whom objected to being described as having links to drug and human trafficking. However, the cyber crime law was only passed in September 2012, 4 months after the publication of the article, so the judge in this case chose to apply the law retroactively–which is very unusual. The charges were also filed 5 years after the article was published, well beyond the one year statute of limitations for libel cases in the Philippines. Nonetheless, the Department of Justice claimed it could use an obscure law to extend the statute of limitations, which legal experts deem unconstitutional. Both Ressa and Santos were ordered to pay P400,000 and could face between 6 months and 6 years in prison.

At the World Movement’s Ninth Assembly in Dakar, Senegal in May, 2018, Ressa spoke on a panel discussing Rappler’s work to track and study the disinformation ecosystem in the Philippines. She talked about how disinformation poses a challenge to democracy, muddying the waters of policy debates and confusing citizens.  “If you don’t know what to believe, then the person with the loudest megaphone wins.” But identifying and raising public awareness about disinformation can help, and independent journalism plays a crucial role in this regard. “You can’t discount people learning. Once they know that are being manipulated, you can take strides forward.”

Join us in standing for freedom of the press, and share this alert on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtags #DefendPressFreedom and #SetThemFree.