Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler are going head to head with Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. For revealing the truth about Duterte’s war on drugs and his corruption, Ressa now threatens to go to jail.
In June 2020 she was found guilty of ‘cyber libel’ and now faces up to six years in prison. But that doesn’t intimidate Philippine journalist Maria Ressa at all. ‘I still don’t know how bad it’s going to get’, she said in an interview. ‘But I’m not going to change. I will either stand for my values, or I’m not me.’
Or as she says in the documentary A Thousand Cuts, a close-to-the-bone account of the attacks on Rappler and Maria Ressa: ‘We at Rappler, we will not duck. We will not hide. We will hold the line.’
In 2012, Ressa founded Philippine independent news website Rappler, ‘to hold power to account’. As shown in A Thousand Cuts, Ressa and the more than one hundred journalists working at Rappler have become the target of increasing oppression by Duterte. When she started Rappler, Ressa had already earned her spurs in journalism, among other things as an investigative reporter for CNN in Southeast Asia. According to herself, her work and life experience have made her equipped to deal with the attacks. ‘I’m 57 years old’, she says. ‘I’ve been a journalist for 35 years. In a way, they chose a perfect target. By the time they began attacking me and Rappler […] I already knew who I was.’
That isn’t necessarily true for the other journalists at Rappler. The attacks and intimidation they face, both online and physical, are very threatening. Especially as they are encouraged by Duterte himself: ‘If you end up dead, it’s your fault’, he warned critical journalists. So as the company’s CEO, Ressa feels a big responsibility. ‘I worry about our younger reporters’, she says. ‘So we offer counseling. Not just our reporters but our social media team as well.’
As for her own fate, Ressa is remarkably optimistic and philosophical. ‘I don’t know where I’m going to end up, and that’s OK,’ she said right after her conviction in June 2020. ‘I’m embracing this. The reality of this will be determined by how well I stand by my values now. I can control that, and that’s the reason I don’t doubt.’
A Thousand Cuts will be shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2021, where Maria Ressa will be a special guest.