Maria Ressa On Her Arrest And Journalism In The Philippines
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Maria Ressa is out of jail. A respected journalist in the Philippines was arrested last week on charges of cyber libel. She, of course, is the CEO and founder of the news site Rappler and was named a Time Person of the Year for her courage as an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his brutal war on drugs that has killed thousands. The government in turn has targeted Rappler. Maria Ressa joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
MARIA RESSA: Thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: May I ask how you were treated in prison?
RESSA: Well. I mean, if that's - and that's part of, I think, what, you know, the National Bureau of Investigation - our NBI is the - our version of the FBI. The NBI agent said, you know, I'm given special treatment. I was allowed to stay the night in a conference room. So I slept on chairs. And, yeah, I think the biggest problem here is that I shouldn't have been detained at all. There were many things that were wrong with the - both the arrest warrant and the fact that there was a night court. My lawyers were there ready to post bail two hours before it closed. But the judge who did have jurisdiction refused to take the bail.
SIMON: Now, you've been charged with cyber libel, as I understand it, for linking a local businessman to illegal activities in reports that were published seven years ago by Rappler.
RESSA: Absolutely, and not only was it published seven years ago. It was published months before the actual law we allegedly violated had even been enacted. So you can't have a retroactive application of a law that didn't even exist yet. So I used the term laughable that night in detention. I came up with a new word. The word is travesty. This is insane.
SIMON: Now, you've described Duterte as turning Facebook into a weapon against his critics. How so?
RESSA: Exponential lies. So a lie told a million times becomes the truth. It's online state-sponsored hate that pounds any voice that it perceives to be critical into silence. And then you put that together, this weaponization of social media - and keep in mind we are a petri dish for social media - for Facebook, in particular. Ninety-seven percent of Filipinos on the Internet are on Facebook. And according to Hootsuite or We Are Social, in January 2019, Filipinos spend the most time on the Internet, and they spend the most time on social media globally. So when you manipulate people online, you're changing the democratic values that this country supposedly stands for. You put that together with the weaponization of the law. This is - these are the problems that we're facing today.
SIMON: Do you believe something like your detention and potential fines has what amounts to a chilling effect on human rights advocates and a free press?
RESSA: Absolutely. I don't think I was the target alone of this action - right? - because I was trying to figure out, why would they want to detain me for a night? Because that's all they could've done 'cause I was supposed to be granted bail. And it's actually what the NBI agent told one of our reporters who was livestreaming the serving of the arrest warrant that night. He told her, be silent, or you're next. And that is the message that the government sent loud and clear - be quiet, toe the line or you're next.
SIMON: Do you have any plans to be more quiet?
RESSA: (Laughter) No. All we can do right now is hold the government to account. I don't think this is about me or about Rappler. Press freedom is the foundation of the rights of all Filipinos to the truth. I always say, you know, you have to help us hold the line; we're not against the government, but it is our job to hold the government accountable.
SIMON: Maria Ressa, CEO and founder of Rappler, thanks so much for being with us.
RESSA: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.