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Filipina Journalist Maria Ressa Wins Nobel Peace Prize After Facing Years of Threats & Arrests

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The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday morning to Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and Russian newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov for their work to “safeguard freedom of expression.” Ressa has repeatedly been arrested by the government of Rodrigo Duterte for the groundbreaking work of her news site Rappler, which has exposed Duterte’s deadly war on drugs that has killed tens of thousands. “The Nobel Peace Prize committee realized a world without facts means a world without truth,” said Ressa today after winning the prize. We reair a 2019 interview when Ressa came into the Democracy Now! studio.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin the show with the Nobel Peace Prize. This year’s winners have just been announced.

BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms. Ressa and Mr. Muratov are receiving the peace prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and in Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Dmitry Muratov is the co-founder and editor of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Six of the newspaper’s reporters have been killed since its creation, including Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chechen War. Maria Ressa is the founder, CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an acclaimed news website in the Philippines. She has been repeatedly arrested by the Rodrigo Duterte government, which has threatened to shut down Rappler. She spoke earlier today on Rappler.com after she won the Nobel Prize.

MARIA RESSA: We have all long said this, since 2016, that we are fighting for facts. And when we live in a world where facts are debatable, when the world’s largest distributor of news prioritizes the spread of lies, laced with anger and hate, and spreads it faster and further than facts, then journalism becomes activism. And that’s the transformation that we’ve gone through in Rappler, that we were on quicksand trying to figure out: How do we do what we do? How can journalists continue the mission of journalism? Why is it so difficult to continue telling the community, telling the world what the facts are? Right?

So, in a battle for facts, I guess what this just shows is that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust. And if you don’t have any of those things, you certainly can’t conquer coronavirus, you can’t conquer climate change. I’ve been saying this over and over, and it feels a little bit like, you know, Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill. And when you get attacked in the process of trying to roll the rock up the hill, you just kind of dodge. You keep going. You keep going. And it’s a shock, but the fact that a journalist from the Philippines and a journalist from Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize tells you about the state of the world today and the state of the Philippines.

AMY GOODMAN: Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, responding to winning the Nobel Peace Prize today.

In 2019, she came into Democracy Now!’s studios here in New York and talked about the fight for press freedom in the Philippines.

MARIA RESSA: So, I was arrested twice in about five weeks and detained once. And, you know, I have to say, I think it’s just to make sure that I feel the power of the state. It’s something that — the pace of all of this has been unprecedented. And I’ve covered the Philippines for more than 30 years. In 14 months, we’ve had 11 cases filed by the Philippine government. I’ve posted bail eight times. And then it just keeps coming. We’re going to face every single one in court. And I could face decades in jail if we lose them. And one of the things that always — it just hit me a few days ago that since January 2018, when we’ve really begun facing all of this, we have not won one single motion — not one, regardless of how ridiculous the cases are.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what he’s charging with you. What’s this foreign ownership issue, the tax issue?

MARIA RESSA: So, I think you have to look at the whole thing, and it’s about three years long now. It’s preceded by attacks on social media, astroturfing, right? It’s fake. They seed it, it grows, and people think it’s real. And the first attack is that — was actually by pro-Duterte bloggers saying that — random question by one of the ones who become a government official, underneath — she headed social media for the presidential palace. Her first question was: “Is Rappler CIA?” It begins there. And then, what’s seeded is that Rappler is foreign-funded. The actual case is that we’re controlled by foreigners. So ludicrous, precisely because even in the Philippines we’re known for our independence.

The thing that’s most alarming for me, though, is the fast pace of something called the cyber libel charge. In this one, a story we published seven years ago, before the actual cyber libel law was enacted, is being used against us to say we violated the law that didn’t exist yet. I don’t know how else to — you know, when I first saw it, I laughed. The National Bureau of Investigation, its own lawyers threw it out. And yet, a week later, it’s resuscitated, and now it’s in court.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to what happened when you were just released from jail, just this small clip.

MARIA RESSA: You cannot harass and intimidate journalists to silence. We’ll stand up and fight against it. And as long as we are a democracy under a constitution, which has a bill of rights, we will demand our rights be respected.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens to you when you are detained? And have you dealt directly with Duterte, the president of the Philippines?

MARIA RESSA: I have. I mean, the last interview I did with him was December of 2016. And the interview that I did with him in October 2015 actually helped bring him to the attention, helped the critics of President Duterte point out that Rappler, because we covered him fairly, actually helped him get elected. Certainly, he knew the power of Rappler, our millennial demographic, and that’s perhaps part of the reason that we’re under attack.

But I think there’s something far more insidious that’s happening now. It’s normalizing these attacks. You know, when you say a million times that I’m a criminal, even though it’s not true, people begin to believe. And that’s what happened first on social media: The attacks became normal. And then people who had never met me then began to believe it. Then, a year and a half later, when President Duterte comes down and says, you know, Rappler is owned by foreigners, the cases began a week later, and we’re sandwiched there.

It’s a tough place to push back, but I think it’s truly important to do that, because this is the time — I think this is a pivotal moment for Philippine democracy. This is the time when we have to fight for the rights that are guaranteed by the constitution. …

AMY GOODMAN: So you have Duterte saying, “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination.” What gives you the courage to keep taking him on?

MARIA RESSA: I don’t really look at it as taking him on, you know? I do a job. My job is to hold power to account. Rappler, we do stories that the president, that — lots of people don’t like our stories. President Aquino didn’t like our stories. But that is the task of what a reporter does, right? So, his rhetoric is a noise for me. And while it does send a signal to the government bureaucracy — certainly the cases were triggered by President Duterte — it shouldn’t stop us. And certainly, we shouldn’t allow harassment, intimidation and the fear of that stop you from doing your job. So, as far as I’m concerned, we keep going, until the constitution is changed, if that’s the case, right? We demand the rights that are guaranteed not just by the Philippine constitution, but by the bill of rights. We have a constitution similar to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Rappler is known for exposing the so-called war on drugs, but where thousands of Filipinos have been killed.

MARIA RESSA: Can I correct how much? It’s not just thousands. And this is Michelle Bachelet at the U.N. who used this number. The latest estimate is, since July 1, 2016, until early this year, more than 27,000 people killed. That’s a U.N. estimate, right? The Philippine police will say — will admit they’ve killed more than 5,000 people. Even that number is huge. But there’s another bucket that they go off: It’s more than 30,000 homicide cases under investigation. This parsing of the details allows lies to continue.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who is being killed. I mean, President Duterte himself has boasted about murdering people.

MARIA RESSA: He has. And before he even became president, in an interview with me — John Oliver wound up running this — he admitted he killed people, that he killed three people, and that he would continue. You know, another phrase that was used often is that, “When I’m elected, if I’m elected, the fish in Manila Bay will be fat,” because he’ll throw dead bodies in Manila Bay, right? That was the implied statement there.

Who’s being — these are not the drug dealers who are being killed. These are the poor people. These are in the poorest of the poor areas. And this is also where you can see, in statistical surveys, support in this demographic has waned for President Duterte. The people who cannot defend themselves, the people who are on a list, a random list, that is not backed. There is no trial. There’s no proof that the people being killed are even drug dealers. I think this is dangerous, in a country that has no rule of law, that normalizes extrajudicial killings. We have to demand better.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Trump, his support of President Duterte, how does that affect policy in the Philippines? How does it affect you?

MARIA RESSA: Well, when President Trump called CNN and The New York Times fake news, a week later President Duterte called Rappler fake news. I think it is a bad time for the world when the former beacon of democracy, the fighter for press freedom and human rights, is noticeably absent. And I think you’re feeling that all around the world. Simultaneous to that, though, is the American technology companies that have allowed cheap armies on social media to roll back democracy, a new weapon used against journalists. This is psychological warfare, right? And when you’re attacked —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re holding up your phones.

MARIA RESSA: Yeah. When you’re attacked — at one point I was getting 90 hate messages per hour. Per hour. You can’t even — it’s a whole new thing. So, anyway, how do we deal with it? We continue doing our jobs. We demand accountability. We tell our people. And I think the problem, though, is that — I think maybe same in the United States — is, in the Philippines, fear is palpable. And if it’s not fear, it’s apathy. People want to duck until this time period is over. And I think what it —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you clearly aren’t. And I want to thank you so much for being here. Five seconds, a message to the world about the importance of press freedom.

MARIA RESSA: Press freedom is not just for journalists. I think this is a critical time for democracy around the world, both in the Philippines and in the United States. And you must fight for your rights while you still can.

AMY GOODMAN: Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, the co-founder of the independent news site Rappler, speaking on Democracy Now! in 2019. Earlier today, she won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. They were cited for their, quote, “courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.” To see all our interviews with Maria Ressa, visit democracynow.org.

When we come back, the family of Henrietta Lacks is suing the pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific for profiting from Henrietta Lacks’ cells, that were taken without her consent in 1951 and have been used for decades by scientists. We’ll speak to civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Henrietta Lacks’ grandson. Stay with us.

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Family of Henrietta Lacks Files Lawsuit over Use of Stolen Cells, Lambasts Racist Medical System

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