'My Only Crime Is to Be a Journalist.' Maria Ressa Speaks Out About the Fight for Integrity

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Journalist Maria Ressa speaks to the media as she arrives at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters
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Maria Ressa has a message for the members of the U.S. media who feel under attack: stand your ground.

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“I think we’re living through a very unique moment where again it proves that information is power,” the journalist told TIME at the TIME 100 gala in New York Tuesday. Ressa, who was included in TIME’s 2019 list of the most influential people, attended Tuesday’s gala in New York City with her sister. “Its a completely chaotic time where technology has helped make facts disputable, eroded truth, and crippled trust.”

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While Ressa has been an award-winning journalist for decades, she rose to international prominence over the past year as a beacon for the free press in the Southeast Asian country. After working for the Wall Street Journal and CNN, she co-founded the Philippines news website Rappler in 2012, and has extensively reported on the President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly crackdown on drugs and the extrajudicial killings in the country.

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In November of 2018, the Philippine government charged Ressa and the website with tax evasion, which Ressa alleged was merely an effort to intimidate her.

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She has since been arrested twice in recent months — in February on charges of “cyber libel” related to an article published by Rappler in May 2012 and in March over accusations that Rappler violated laws prohibiting foreign ownership of media companies.

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Read Maria Ressa’s TIME 100 gala speech in full below.

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“In 14 months the Filipino government has filed 11 cases [against me],” she said. “My only crime is to be a journalist, to speak truth to power.”

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Ressa was also included in TIME’s 2018 Person of the Year coverage, which was dedicated to journalists fighting for truth across the world.

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“What an incredible roomful of people. I mean, the energy from the mother of dragons to Nancy Pelosi. It is the — I don’t know what to do with it. I mean, I think we’re living through a very unique moment where, again, it proves that information is power. It’s a completely chaotic time where technology has helped make facts disputable, eroded truths, and crippled trust.

For journalists, for people at the front lines of trying to fight for truth, this is an existential moment for journalism and for democracy; for Rappler, the company I helped build in the Philippines, it’s an existential moment, not just for our company, but for me.

In 14 months, my government, the Philippine 2 government, has filed 11 cases. I posted bail eight times, I’ve been arrested twice in five weeks, detained once, and the only thing I’ve done, my only crime is to be a journalist, to speak truth to power.

So, TIME, thank you, TIME, for helping us shine the light, that’s truly important, and for including us in this roomful of people. Sometimes in the global south we’re not included.

Who am I? Who inspires me? I came with my sister. Where is my sister? Where are you? I came with my sister, who is live-streaming, she’s live-streaming. So she and I were born in the Philippines. We made different choices.

I guess the first really big choices were homes, right, for every one of us. My sister chose New York. This is her home. She married a German-Italian-American guy, and they have gorgeous kids. Me, I had to wait until I was 40 because I couldn’t decide. After living a decade in Jakarta, I chose. I chose Manila, the Philippines, for better or worse.

Well, it’s ironic that even though our two nations are almost exactly across the world from each other, our leaders have the same style, they’re macho, populist styles, sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. Our leaders, these leaders use anger and fear to divide and to conquer, they create and they live a politics of hate.

But I think everyone in this room realizes that anger and hate only destroy. What do you do when that’s over? How do you build, right? Because in order to create, to build for the future, you have to move away from that. How well we survive this time of creative destruction, it really is, depends on each of us, on each of us fighting our individual battles of integrity, for integrity. We’ve got to jump in, and I know you in this room have, and we have to answer some crucial questions:

Who are we? What do you stand for? What are the values? This word came up a lot today. What are the values that give meaning? What is the line that you will never cross, because on this side you’re good, and on this side you’re evil.

I think the TIME 100, you in this room, have faced these questions, and you’ve made your choice, and that’s why you move your world. So who are we toasting? Please, grab your glass, raise it to Filipinos, to Americans, and other freedom-loving people all around the world who are fighting desperately for their democracies, because they — we believe in the goodness of human nature. We believe that the only way to build is with hope, it’s with inspiration, it is — it’s with love. We will hold the line powered with the best of human nature. Please, let’s toast to freedom.

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