POSTSCRIPT / December 12, 2021 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Let’s hold the line together for truth!’

WE stand in solidarity with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa speaking in Oslo, Norway, as “representative of every journalist 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.”

Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov and delivered a stirring speech at the awards ceremony. She is the first Filipino to win the award. (More details in the news section.)

We can share on this small flat space only so much, mostly excerpts, of her 18-minute speech. We urge you to experience that proud Nobel moment via this video link:

Highlighting the existential challenges to information media, Ressa recalled “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.

“And in my own country, 23-year-old Frenchie Mae Cumpio, still in prison after nearly two years, and just 36 hours ago, the news that my former colleague, Jess Malabanan, was killed with a bullet to his head.”

She thanked various sectors that help keep journalists safer and working, including human rights organizations and the #HoldTheLine Coalition of more than 80 global groups. She noted that at least 63 lawyers, compared to 22 journalists, have been murdered in the country since President Duterte took office in 2016… Karapatan, of the #CourageON human rights coalition, has had 16 of its members killed… Senator Leila de Lima, because she demanded accountability, is serving her fifth year in jail… ABS-CBN, our largest broadcaster, lost its franchise to operate.

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PUTTING together Rappler 10 years ago, she said, showed what besets media: the absence of law and democratic vision for the 21st century. One side of the coin is the information ecosystem, and on the other side is technology with its god-like power, the new gatekeepers.

She said the setup 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.

“Our greatest need today is to transform that hate and violence, the toxic sludge that’s coursing through our information ecosystem, prioritized by American internet companies that make more money by spreading that hate and triggering the worst in us.

 “We must have the foresight and courage to imagine what might happen if we don’t act now, and instead, please, create the world as it should be – more compassionate, more equal, more sustainable…To do that, please ask yourself what are you willing to sacrifice for the truth?

“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. We need information ecosystems that live and die by facts. We do this by shifting social priorities to rebuild journalism for the 21st century while regulating and outlawing the surveillance economics that profits from hate and lies.”

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RESSA called attention to the need to help independent journalism survive, first by giving greater protection to journalists and standing up against states that target them. Then there is the need to address the collapse of the advertising model for journalism.

She said: “So while the public debate is here, down here on content moderation downstream, the real sleight-of-hand happens further upstream, where algorithms of amplification, algorithms of distribution have been programmed by humans with coded bias.

“Their editorial agenda is profit-driven, carried out by machines at scale. The impact is global, with cheap armies on social media rolling back democracy, tearing it down in at least 81 countries around the world. That impunity must stop.”

That looks like a tall order for reforms in various sectors on different levels. Still, Ressa threw at her listeners in different spheres of activities and influence the question: “To do (all) that, please ask yourself what are you willing to sacrifice for the truth?”

Looking inward she said: “At the core of journalism is a code of honor. And mine is layered on different worlds – from how I grew up, the golden rule, what’s right and wrong; from college, and the honor code I learned there; and my time as a reporter, and the code of standards and ethics I learned and helped write. Add to that the Filipino idea of utang na loob – literally the debt from within – at its best, a system of paying it forward.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be here today. Every day, I live with the real threat of spending the rest of my life in jail because I’m a journalist. When I go home, I have no idea what the future holds, but it’s worth the risk.

“The destruction has happened. Now it’s time to build – to create the world we want.

“So please, with me, just close your eyes for just a moment, and imagine the world as it should be. A world of peace, trust, and empathy, bringing out the best that we can be.

“Open your eyes. Now go, we have to make it happen. Please, let’s hold the line together.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 12, 2021)

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