Journalist Continues Fight For Freedom Of The Press

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Nobel prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa is pictured at Chautauqua Institution. Photo by Sean Smith/The Chautauquan Daily

CHAUTAUQUA — “You have no idea what freedom means until you lose it.”

Nobel prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa said she has not done anything wrong except being a journalist in Asia.

As a journalist, Messa said, courage is not hers, but courage lies with others outside of journalism to determine what kind of future is at stake for people of the world. She shared her thoughts with a Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater audience Friday on the theme “New Profiles in Courage.”

Messa said the dystopia that people live in happens when information is corrupted. The boundary lines between fact and fiction collapsed when the gatekeepers moved from being journalists to moving to using technology.

She said when she was first a journalist in the mid-1980s she could spend two weeks or more on a story without having to write it quickly. She said when the story was written, a journalist actually had insight because of spending so long getting the story. Satellite technology in the 1990s ended journalists spending large amounts of time getting stories. Satellite technology pushed journalists to get their stories published as deadlines were moved into a 24-hour format.

In the early 2000s, she went to the Philippines and set up the Manila Bureau and then the Jakarta Bureau for CNN.

But, in 2005, she decided she did not want to write for a global community anymore because, she said, “it feels like I throw my stories into a black hole.”

She said the five lessons of courage include learning; speaking — because silence is viewed as consent; drawing the line between right and wrong, and good and evil; allowing trust — because social media has broken down trust; and having faith.

Ressa said it is important for one to learn how to embrace his or her fear.

“Embracing your fear means holding whatever it is you’re most afraid of, touching it and then planning for it. Then once you plan for it, you throw it away and you live the way you want to live,” she said.

In 2012, she set up Rappler because she saw how technology, fundamentally changed everything.

A journalist in Asia for more than 35 years, Ressa co-founded Rappler, the top digital-only news site that is leading the fight for press freedom in the Philippines. As Rappler’s CEO and president, Ressa has endured constant political harassment and arrests by the Duterte government, forced to post bail 10 times to stay free, according to assembly.chq.org. In October 2021, she was one of two journalists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” For her courage and work on disinformation and “fake news,” Ressa was named one of Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year, was among its 100 Most Influential People of 2019, and has also been named one of Time’s Most Influential Women of the Century. Before co-founding Rappler, Ressa focused on investigating terrorism in Southeast Asia. She opened and ran CNN’s Manila Bureau for nearly a decade before moving to Indonesia and opening the network’s Jakarta bureau, which she ran from 1995 to 2005. That was when she returned to Manila as the senior vice president in charge of ABS-CBN’s multimedia news operations, managing about a thousand journalists for the largest news organization in the country.

Ressa wrote Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia and From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism. She is writing her third book, How to Stand up to a Dictator, for publication this fall, the website stated.

“One person can’t do this alone,” Ressa said. “It must be a whole society approach to restore trust.”

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