Investigative journalist Maria Ressa has been tracking hate networks in the Philippines, and she also has concerns for Canada, writes The National’s co-host Adrienne Arsenault.
The timing of Time Magazine’s decision seems to have pinched her heart a bit.
Filipina journalist Maria Ressa was being besieged. The arrest warrants were piling up. The government of Rodrigo Duterte had been oh-so-clear how it felt about her and her news organization Rappler.
Duterte was using the slur “fake news” long before it started tripping off the tongues of others. His government had made a move to revoke Rappler’s licence.
The reporters were, and still are, dedicated to exposing the thousands of murders committed in the name of Duterte’s war on drugs. They hold power to account like few others, and for that they have been threatened so forcefully that Ressa spent a month getting 90 threats an hour.
Feel free to doubt the number, but be prepared to be bombarded by facts. Ressa is a skilled data analyst. She has all the evidence, and began tracking the networks of hate the way she used to track terror cells.
Then she exposed them — again, the way she exposed terror cells.
All of this just made Duterte even angrier. The hashtag #jailmariaressa became a thing.
And then it really became a thing. Ressa is now facing several tax evasion charges that she maintains are ridiculous. What’s not ridiculous is that she could be jailed for 15 years.
This isn’t a hypothetical. One of Duterte’s most prominent critics, Senator Leila De Lima, has been in jail since early 2017 on charges she is certain are politically motivated.
THE ‘UMBRELLA’ FORCE: Police escorts extended their arms into umbrella-like margin in a desperate attempt to cover Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima from waving to her supporters as she arrives this morning to attend the court hearing today at the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 34 in relation to the “Disobedience to Summons” case (Violation of Article 150 of the Revised Penal Code) filed against her by former House leaders. (Photo: Leila de Lima Facebook)
So, back to the timing and Ressa’s anxiety. While she was contemplating the meaning of the charges back in December, a tweet came through that surprised her.
“I was with my friend, and I showed it to her and said, ‘I think this is fake news.'”
It was a moment to laugh and then take a big breath. It wasn’t fake. Ressa had just been named one of Time Magazine’s persons of the year.
“Oh my God, I think it was that sinking feeling in your stomach. And I had to quickly go through is it going to be positive, or negative, will it bring more attacks?”
Don’t forget, she offers, everyone else chosen by Time was either dead or in jail; Jamal Khashoggi, the journalists from the Capital Gazette, the Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar.
But Ressa has decided maybe this is a shield. Neither she nor her team have stopped reporting. A key focus is warning the world about the spread of disinformation and taking Facebook to task; sharing the data to help expose how these networks function.
That’s at the core of what we talked about when Ressa visited Toronto this week. We’ve had these conversations before, and I’ve interviewed her in the Philippines in 2011 and 2017. Always the conversation was about what her country is going through.
This time we also started to talk about Canada.
She has concerns about the upcoming election and the inevitable attempts to drive wedges into Canadian society … or as she calls it, “pound the fracture lines.” She has some advice, some concerns and some inspiration to share.
As a reporter, watching someone this dedicated is an excellent motivator to keep rolling up the sleeves.
- WATCH: Adrienne Arsenault’s interview with Maria Ressa tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online