A prominent media figure in the Philippines facing up to six years in prison will share her views on press freedoms this week.

Maria Ressa, the East-West Center’s 2020 Chaplin Fellowship in Distinguished Journalism honoree, is scheduled to headline a live webcast Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The title of her talk, “Press Freedom Under Fire,” is timely.

Ressa, CEO and executive editor of the social news website Rappler, was found guilty of “cyberlibel” in the Philippines last month, a verdict condemned as setting “an extraordinarily damaging precedent” for press freedoms.

According to a report in the Guardian, Ressa and former researcher and writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were accused of cyberlibel over a story that the Guardian said alleged links between a businessman and a top judge.

Journalist Maria Ressa will speak on the threat to press freedoms Tuesday in an online forum. East-West Center/2020

At a press conference after the hearing, according to the news report, Ressa vowed to continue fighting.

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything,” she said.

Just last week, the largest broadcaster in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, was forced to shut down after lawmakers voted to reject its license renewal.

Both crackdowns are a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s hardline stance against press freedoms in the Philippines. Independent media sources like Rappler have reported extensively — and bravely — on the extrajudicial deaths of at least 6,000 drug-related suspects in police operations.

“Human rights groups pegged the number to reach more than 20,000 to include those killed vigilante-style,” Rappler reported June 4.

Covering Marcos

Ressa formerly headed the news division of ABS-CBN. She is also a former foreign correspondent and Manila and Jakarta bureau chief for CNN.

She has been a legendary figure in journalism dating to her reporting on the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. In 2019 Ressa and several other journalists — including the slain Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi — were honored by Time magazine in its list of the most influential people.

“Around the world, a new generation of authoritarian leaders is leading a concerted and intentional assault on truth, with serious consequences for journalists such as Maria who are committed to exposing corruption, documenting abuse and combatting misinformation,” former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote about Ressa in Time.

Civil Beat was not able to interview Ressa prior to her talk. But the EWC said Ressa will focus on attacks against press freedom and democracy going on around the world, “in addition to her own case.”

The program, part of the EWC’s Seminars Live webinar series, will be moderated by Sheila Coronel, director of investigative journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and co-founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

To register for the seminar, click here. The program will also be streamed live and available for replay on YouTube.

The George Chaplin Fellowship in Distinguished Journalism was established in 1986 to honor the former longtime Honolulu Advertiser Editor-in-Chief George Chaplin.

Rappler receives funding from Civil Beat Publisher and CEO Pierre Omidyar through the Omidyar Network.

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