IWPR Congratulates Nobel Prizewinner Maria Ressa

In the Philippines, local and independent media continues to be under siege.

IWPR Congratulates Nobel Prizewinner Maria Ressa

In the Philippines, local and independent media continues to be under siege.

Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa © Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
Monday, 11 October, 2021

IWPR congratulates Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa for co-winning the Nobel Peace Prize 2021 with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.

Their award is both a celebration of - and urgent call to action to defend – the freedom of the press, to help ordinary people know and understand the truth. 

In the Philippines, where IWPR has worked supporting local journalists for over a decade, independent media continues to be under siege. This comes in stark contrast to the Southeast Asian country’s image of having the freest press in the region. 

In the Philippines, like in many countries in Southeast Asia, the pandemic became a convenient pretext to clamp down on freedom of the press - and of expression in general. Several journalists, Ressa and her organisation included, became easy targets for their critical coverage on how the administration bungled the pandemic response. Disinformation targeting journalists and media organisations - including IWPR - as well as activists and human rights defenders, became more sophisticated and faster, exploiting the Filipinos’ constant use of social media for information and connection. 

We at IWPR know we must always tread very carefully in our work in the Philippines, especially in the provinces where impunity and abuse prevail. If people in power don’t see you as an ally or an accomplice, doing your job as a journalist can lead to threats, serious injury or even death. Sadly, this has been the fate of many of our colleagues. 

In November 2009, a few months after IWPR completed pioneering work in human rights awareness and support among Filipino journalists, a powerful political clan linked to then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ambushed and killed 58 people in southern Philippines. Thirty-two of them were local journalists, in what would come to be known as the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre, said to be one of the world’s single biggest attacks on the media. Justice remains elusive for the families of the victims, many of whom happened to be in that fateful convoy simply because they wanted to cover and report local elections. 

As candidates announce their intentions to run in upcoming presidential elections scheduled for May 2022, we fear that little has changed. With more and more political candidates and groups increasing their attempts to influence the media during these crucial times, we also expect more journalists, especially in rural areas, to be put under strain and threat, especially from those who want to hold on to power. 

IWPR believes that supporting independent media and local voices is now more critical than ever. As in our past programmes in support of investigative reporting and media-citizen dialogues with government in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and citizen monitoring and reporting on hate speech in Burma, IWPR continues to support journalists and civil society in Southeast Asia to identify, understand, and push back disinformation, influence and propaganda. 

IWPR has also been working to build consensus around issues on human rights and rule of law on the issue of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. In 2010, we developed and delivered the first and only initiative that brought together the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and perceived representatives of the Communist Party of the Philippines and others to discuss and acknowledge that police officers and soldiers could also be victims of summary killings, as activists and journalists were, through our EU-funded Target Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances programme. IWPR believes replicating this initiative is especially needed now in the context of the anti-drug operations of the current administration where the public narrative remains highly driven and divided by adversarial positions. 

We celebrate this win for all journalists and truth tellers. We also brace for more work in defence of freedom and independent voices. 

Rorie Fajardo-Jarilla is IWPR Asia & Eurasia Programmes Coordinator.

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