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TIME Person of the Year (2018) Maria Ressa talks about press freedom and democracy

In December 2018, #mariaressa was included in #timepersonoftheyear 2018, as one of “The Guardians”, a collection of journalists from around the world combating the “War on Truth”. Maria is the second Filipino to receive the title after former President Corazon Aquino in 1986.

On June 15th 2020, she was found guilty of “cyber libel”, in a case she and press freedom groups have described as a politically motivated prosecution by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his government.

Ressa was arrested early last year in the Manila offices of Rappler, the online news outlet she founded in 2012 and which has gained prominence for its unflinching coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte and his brutal war on drugs.

In this interview from last September 2019, at the event organized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Maria talks about fighting for truth and protesting democracy.

She cites the year 2016 as the year where this all started – “Lies laced with anger and hate that spread faster than facts on social media” – and that these tactics were tested in the Philippines. She talks about how Duterte was elected as President of the Philippines; Brexit happened a month later; and Donald Trump was elected in November of the same year.

Maria talks about how Facebook introduced instant articles at the end of 2015 – putting news and gossip in the same platform and using the same algorithm for both. And that’s why now there’s a blurred line between fact and fiction. She underscores the importance of facts; for without it, you can’t have truth. And without truth you can’t have trust. And without fact, truth and trust, there’s no democracy.

She says the attacks on journalists telling the truth are “personal, ugly and visceral”; but she also calls on the same journalists to “punch through it because what we do today matters.”

She encourages consumers of news and facts to pay attention to their emotions. She says the lies are suppose to make people angry, to incite. And her tip for the public – if a certain article is making you emotional, step back. Think. Is it factual? Is it making you angry?

In ending, she shares the question she asks herself – “How do you have civic engagement in the age of social media? How do you build communities of action? How do you protect democracy?”

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