Filipino investigative journalist and media executive Maria Ressa has been named as the 2021 laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, following the recommendation of an international jury of media professionals.
Over a career spanning more than thirty years, Ressa has worked as CNN’s lead investigative reporter for Asia and the head of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs and now manages the news website Rappler whose reporting has attracted the wrath of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte.
In recent years, she has been the target of online attacks and judicial processes relating to her investigative reporting and has been arrested “for alleged crimes related to the exercise of her profession”, UNESCO said.
Ms. Ressa has also been subject to a sustained campaign of gendered online abuse, threats, and harassment, which at one point, resulted in her receiving an average of over 90 hateful messages an hour on Facebook.
“Maria Ressa’s unerring fight for freedom of expression is an example for many journalists around the world,” jury chair Marilu Mastrogiovanni said in the statement.
“Her case is emblematic of global trends that represent a real threat to press freedom, and therefore to democracy,” Ms. Mastrogiovanni said.
Ms. Ressa, who is 57, was in court last month to deny charges of dodging taxes as authorities continued a crackdown against the country’s independent media.
Rappler was three years ago branded a “fake news outlet” by Mr. Duterte and Ms. Ressa has since been the subject of at least 11 investigations into her business.
She said the legal cases are payback for her criticism of the president’s policies including his war on drugs that has killed thousands of people.
She became Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018.
Last year, Ressa was convicted of cyber libel by a Manila court but is free on bail pending an appeal in a case that could see her handed six years in jail.
Other cases against her are pending.
President Duterte has faced international calls to drop all charges against the veteran reporter, with rights groups saying they amount to state harassment. But the pleas have fallen on deaf ears. (Source: CNA)