Case Study: PFDF Support for Maria Ressa

As the founder of Philippine news organization Rappler, Maria Ressa has been an unflinching critic of the harsh practices of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. Rappler’s reporting has brought international attention to the human toll of Duterte’s brutal drug war and hostile attitude towards human rights, making the site a target of the government’s crackdown on press freedom.

Duterte specifically attacked Ressa and Rappler in his 2017 State of the Nation address, and the Duterte regime followed that with an abusive use of the Philippine judicial system to mount an assault against Rappler’s ownership and finances. In November 2018, Ressa and Rappler were indicted on charges of tax evasion, in what the Committee to Protect Journalists has described as “a politicized persecution.” Rappler called the charges “continuing intimidation and harassment against us, and an attempt to silence journalists."

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Duterte and his supporters also mobilized a vast online army of social media accounts, many of them fake, which relentlessly attack Ressa and her advocates on a national and international scale. These “patriotic trolling” attacks reflect new threats to journalists and new forms of disinformation that have evolved with the rise of social media. In particular, Ressa has been an outspoken critic of Facebook’s effect on political discourse and abuse by authoritarian leaders.

Since 2017, the Press Freedom Defense Fund has proudly supported Maria Ressa and Rappler in their legal defense against the Duterte regime.  In December 2018, the Press Freedom Defense Fund and the Committee to Protect Journalists announced a new partnership for a fundraising campaign with a goal to raise $500,000 to support legal expenses for international news organizations and journalists threatened because of their work. This initiative made its first award to support Rappler and Maria Ressa with a pledge of $100,000, which includes additional support pledged by Reporters Without Borders and The International Center for Journalists.

"Journalism is under assault globally and we must do everything we can to ensure the free flow of information," said Jim Risen, Director of the Press Freedom Defense Fund. "We're thrilled to partner with these leading organizations to support journalists, their sources and other threatened actors who are providing a vital public service."

Ressa has not been deterred by the legal and propaganda campaigns against her. She was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018 as part of a group of journalists Time called “The Guardians,” and received the 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The government's attacks against Rappler have made it very clear to us exactly who we are, what our identity is, and for our young reporters who are on the ground, how clear and necessary our mission is today,” Ressa said.

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