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Pulitzer Center Update November 5, 2020

A Conversation with Maria Ressa at Double Exposure


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Pulitzer Center Senior Editor Boyoung Lim interviewed journalist Maria Ressa as part of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival, which celebrates investigative reporting in film and combines film screenings for the public with a professional symposium for journalists and visual storytellers. The festival featured a screening of A Thousand Cuts, which documents Ressa and the team of reporters at Manila-based investigative news organization Rappler as they face escalating attacks from the Philippine government. 

Ressa spoke to Lim about how the government has employed the legal system as a tool of intimidation and obstruction to dismantle independent journalism, and how she's adapted to life under immense strain. 

Ressa said she has used what she learned while reporting from war zones to help her deal with a new type of danger where the "bullets are all online."

"You wake up, you pick up your phone, and you're the target," she said. "Your emotions are the target. Your insecurities are the target." 

Ressa said her strategy for dealing with the onslaught of online threats and harassment is "eyes wide open." 

"I walked into it, I wanted to understand it, which meant touching every hateful message," she said. "And then I could begin to fight back."

As co-founder and executive editor of Rappler, Ressa has relentlessly covered Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. She was convicted on charges of cyber libel in June 2019, and faces up to six years in prison. The charges are widely viewed as retaliation for critical coverage of Duterte. This case is just one of nearly a dozen court cases and investigations that have been enacted against Rappler staff.

"What struck me the most inspiring was Maria's dedication to truth and democracy in the face of legal charges and death threats," Lim said about the interview. "Without any trace of despair, she refuses to be reactive to attackers and instead channels her energy into building a new future for all of us."

Toward the end of the interview, Lim asked a question Ressa had posed earlier: "What would you risk for truth?" 

"Right now, I'm risking everything, aren't I?" Ressa said.