Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa Found Guilty Of Cyber Libel
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In the Philippines today, the most prominent name in the country's media landscape has been convicted for cyber libel. Maria Ressa is the CEO of the online news portal Rappler. She and a former colleague at the site now face up to six years in prison. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The conviction came after years of threats at the highest levels. President Rodrigo Duterte had waged a campaign of intimidation against Maria Ressa and her scrappy newsroom. Critics call it Duterte's revenge over Rappler's hard-hitting coverage of his administration, most pointedly his violent drug war. The conviction for libel online stemmed from an article dating back to 2012, with a Filipino businessman disputing a referenced intelligence report alleging he was linked to a murder and drug dealing. Rappler's lawyers argued the statute of limitations on libel had passed.
The government has hit Ressa and Rappler with more than a half a dozen other cases. The 56-year-old Ressa joked with reporters following the verdict about the accumulation of cases - proof, she says, that the government is weaponizing the law in a bid to defang Rappler.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARIA RESSA: This is the first. It's followed by a whole slew of other cases of tax evasion and then a whole slew that is based on foreign ownership and securities fraud. I really love that I became a criminal all in one year several times.
MCCARTHY: Ressa, 2018 Time's Person of the Year, is free on bail pending appeal, but the conviction of the crusader against disinformation is a fresh blow to press freedoms in the Philippines. It comes just weeks after government regulators shut down a broadcast network relied on by millions for entertainment and information about the pandemic sweeping the country.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.