The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has put the spotlight on the Philippines on World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2021.
The 2021 Global Conference hosted by UNESCO and the Government of Namibia, carrying the theme of “Information as a Public Good”, marked the eve of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 by awarding the UNESCO/ Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Filipino investigative journalist Maria Ressa who spoke about the state of democracy and journalism in the Philippines.
The United Nations specialized agency observes May 3, the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press, as “a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom, and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics”.
“Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story,” the WPFD site states.
Maria Ressa, the Rappler social news organization co-founder and former news chief of ABS-CBN network in the Philippines, was named the laureate of the UNESCO via a webcast between Manila and Windhoek on May 2 as the journalist has been prevented from traveling outside the country.
UNESCO cited the Filipino journalist as having participated in numerous international initiatives aimed at promoting press freedom. “In recent years, she has been the target of online attacks and legal proceedings relating to her reporting and being the director of online media Rappler. She has been arrested for alleged crimes related to her professional practice and has been the subject of an intense campaign of gender-based threats and harassment online. It has happened that she received an average of more than 90 hate messages per hour on Facebook,” reported UNESCO.
“Maria Ressa’s infallible fight for freedom of expression is an example for many journalists around the world. His case is emblematic of global trends which represent a real threat to press freedom and therefore to democracy,” said Marilu Mastrogiovanni, President of the International Prize Jury.
We have to keep fighting back!
— #WorldPressFreedomDay Conference (@unescoNOW) May 2, 2021
In her acceptance speech, Maria Ressa spoke about the role and struggle of journalists in upholding democracy in the Philippines and the “war-zone” environment engendered by social media.
The WPFD Global Conference also presented Maria Ressa’s earlier recorded interview with BBC News Australia Correspondent Shaimaa Khalil that touched on the Filipino journalist’s personal struggles as a journalist and the leader of her news organization, her insights on how technology impacts journalism and the power of Facebook in the Philippines.
Asked by the BBC correspondent on how she sees journalism practice in 5 years, Ressa responds, “Strangely, I am actually hopeful. Because this is that moment of creative destruction.”
“I think the future of journalism is intertwined with tech. Journalism needs to survive,” adds Ressa who mentions her involvement with the International Fund for Public Interest Media that raises funds to help small and medium-sized news organizations, independent news, public interest media survive what the Filipino news leader calls the “valley of death”. “If we survive this we can keep going forward,” she says.
The 2021 World Press Freedom Prize laureate was also asked for advice for future journalists. “My advice for young journalists – guys, go in! This is it. This time matters. You will start. Go. Start now. Do something better than my generation did.”
Maria Ressa also shared the rationale for Rappler when it was established in 2012: “We build communities of action and the food we feed our communities is journalism. These communities of action impact our world.”
Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American journalist who was named TIME Person of the Year representing press freedom fighters in 2018 and received numerous recognitions such as the 2018 WAN-INFRA Golden Pen of Freedom, Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
SEND CHEERS to the United Nations for placing the spotlight on the Philippines as it awarded Maria Ressa the 2021 World Press Freedom Prize. WATCH the awarding here:
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