Ressa’s Nobel Lecture is once-in-a-lifetime, so be sure to take notes.
Rappler co-founder and CEO Maria Ressa has more to be proud of than adding the Nobel to her long list of feats.
The former Lifestyle Asia cover personality can also confidently say that she has built a news brand that prides its decade-long fearless reportage—in the name of public service and against the powers that seek to silence it permanently.
By receiving the award last December 10, the veteran journalist committed to representing the Filipino press along with all her colleagues worldwide in holding the line for press freedom.
Here are a few lessons from her acceptance speech, which covered everything from rights violations to social media.
No press freedom, only pressed freedom
Despite how internet trolls argue that there is press freedom supposedly because journalists are able to go about their day writing stories, this is simply not the truth.
Ressa recalled the fate of journalists across the globe: “the brutal dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, my friend, Luz Mely Reyes in Venezuela, Roman Protasevich in Belarus (whose plane was literally hijacked so he could be arrested), Jimmy Lai languishing in a Hong Kong prison, Sonny Swe, who after getting out of more than seven years in jail, started another news group and now is forced to flee Myanmar.”
Locally, she brought up the plight of 23-year-old Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who is still in prison for almost two years just for doing her job, and her former colleague Jess Malabanan, who was shot dead just last week.
“I stand before you, a representative of every journalist around the world who is forced to sacrifice so much to hold the line, to stay true to our values and mission: to bring you the truth and hold power to account,” the Rappler executive paid testament.
Online activity has real-life consequences
Don’t underestimate evil just because it’s taking place online.
“What happens on social media doesn’t stay on social media. Online violence is real-world violence,” Ressa reminded everyone.
The 58-year-old said that social media is a deadly game for power and money, citing what Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.” She called out Facebook in particular as both the world’s largest distributor of news and as a front of impunity standing nothing against lies and hate that spread much more effectively than facts.
“[Technology] has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pitting us against each other, bringing out our fears, anger, hate, and setting the stage for the rise of authoritarians and dictators around the world.”
Be the good, believe there is good
According to Ressa, the challenge is to transform the hate and violence coursing through our information ecosystem.
“Well, that just means we have to work harder. In order to be the good, we have to believe there is good in the world,” she said.
Part of the reason why Rappler survived waves of government attacks, she says, is due to the contribution of strangers who want to help and expect little in return.
“This is the best of who we are, the part of our humanity that makes miracles happen. This is what we lose in a world of fear and violence.”
Draw the line before it’s too late
Of course, the battle for good requires drawing lines to distinguish unprincipled acts.
Ressa likened one of her first arresting officers, who had said they were only doing their job, to a tool of power that served as an example of how good people can turn evil. This is what she said leads to great atrocities.
“This is how a nation–and a world–loses its soul. You have to know what values you are fighting for, you have to draw the lines early, but if you haven’t done so, please, do it now–where this side you’re good, this side, you’re evil.”
Truth requires sacrifice
The Nobel laureate’s most important question was not directed at governments or technology figureheads, rather at everyone else.
“We’re at a sliding door moment, where we can continue down the path we’re on and descend further into fascism or we can choose to fight for a better world. To do that, please, ask yourself: What are YOU willing to sacrifice for the truth?”
Ressa is no stranger to such sacrifice, facing seven active cases in the Philippines with 10 arrest warrants against her in less than two years.
The short answer to the long question of sacrifice is that it is necessary.
“’ll tell you how I lived my way into the answer in three points: first, my context and how these attacks shaped me; second, by the problem we all face; and finally, finding the solution – because we must!” Ressa concluded.
The world must act quickly, she said, to fight for truth, which is needed for trust, shared reality, democracy, and to deal with all the existential problems of our times.
“It’s an arms race in the information ecosystem. To stop that requires a multilateral approach that all of us must be part of. It begins by restoring facts.”