Philippines’ Nobel Prize Newsroom Is Overjoyed but Under Siege

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The rapper’s site, co-founded by Nobel laureate Maria Resa, dares to criticize Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. He can still see it closing.

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The young editor and journalist of the Philippine news site Rapper was already busy on Friday. It was the last day to file papers for next year’s elections, and among the races they were covering were running to replace Rodrigo Duterte, the president who has over the years attacked rappers and lashed out against his journalists. – Issued hidden threats.

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Then Maria Russa, one of the founders of the outlet, heard that she and a Russian journalist, Dmitry A. Muratov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “daring fight for freedom of expression”. She immediately texted her co-founders: “I win.” Word got out, and the company’s Slack channel was flooded with “OMG.”

For several hours, employees said, they were excited by Ms. Resa’s award. But they know that tough times are about to come. The website may still be down. There are still seven active court cases pending against Ms Resa and the rapper. The site’s journalists still face enormous pressure from online trolls, who are buoyed by Mr Duterte’s suggestion that journalists should be treated as “spies” who are “not exempt from murder.”

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“We need to fight and move on,” said Gemma Mendoza, who has led the rapper’s efforts to address disinformation in digital media. “When you’re in this situation you feel like it’s bigger than you. And having that feeling keeps you and you moving forward.”

The future of one of the few independent journalism institutions in the Philippines is at stake. With its coverage of Mr Duterte’s stories about police rights abuses in the War on Drugs and corrupt deals involving local businessmen, the rapper has become an icon of fearless journalism in a field where the press continues to operate. .

Reporters admit it’s a tough time for the rapper. Access is an issue because of Mr Duterte’s attacks on him. The psychological burden of being a troll, especially in a newsroom, where the average age is only 23, is exhausting. but they’re still trying In the words of Ms. Rasa – “Hold the line.”

They know very well that defaming Mr Duterte comes at a high price. In January 2018, the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it would revoke Rapper’s operating license, saying the site violated laws on foreign ownership. The action was widely seen by rights activists and other journalists as retaliation for the rapper’s coverage of Mr Duterte’s brutal drug war.

During a staff meeting shortly after, Ms. Resa and her co-founders, Lilibeth Frondoso, Glenda Gloria and Cha Hofilena, stressed that the company was not going to be intimidated. Together, the founders are referred to in the sroom as “manangs” – a Filipino term of endearment for an older sister.

B Cupin, a senior reporter, said she entered the meeting feeling “kind of confused and a little worried” but hopeful. “It was clear that our Manang was going to fight, so I think it helped a lot to us, the rapper’s young guys,” said Ms. Kapin. “It was like: ‘Okay, maybe we can do this.'”

Mr. Duterte has been hostile to the press for years even before he became president. In 2016, while campaigning for the presidency, he said that he Will not answer any questions from the media. he keeps Accused the media of “skewing” his statements.

His relationship with the rapper has been particularly bad.

Founded in 2012, the K organization exposed how some of those killed by the police did not fight back, as the authorities said, but were rather summarily executed. In this, there has been a demand to hold the responsible people accountable.

Mr Duterte replied stripping the wrapper In his 2017 State of the Nation address, it was “totally owned by the Americans”, in violation of the Philippine Constitution. In 2018, after the government announced the revocation of the website’s license, Mr Duterte said it was not a political decision, but called the organization one. “Fake News Outlet.”

In July of that year, The Philippine Court of Appeals asked the regulator to review the case again, allowing the rapper to remain open — for now.

In February 2019, authorities arrested Ms Resa and a researcher in a libel case involving an article that was published four months before the law they applied for came into force. In June 2020, Ms Rasa was indicted on the charge she is appealing.

The attack has made Ms Resa more determined than ever. “When you’re attacked, all the friction of a news organization, they die, especially with the mission of journalism, if you know what to do,” she said in an interview. said. “I think it’s been incredibly empowering and it gives us energy.”

“You get tired, and you get scared. But I have three co-founders. We alternate fear,” she said. “We never fear at the same time.”

As Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Rasa manages the sroom’s business and technology operations. To compensate for the loss of advertisers due to Mr Duterte’s attacks, the rapper has channeled his resources into data-driven projects and subscriptions. Even with a newsroom of only 15 journalists, it launched more podcasts and short videos during the pandemic, allowing the company to turn profitable in 2020.

Ms Resa and her co-founders cut their teeth as journalists during the “people power” rebellion that brought down President Ferdinand Marcos in the mid-1980s. Once a black funeral was held at the door of Ms Gloria’s family. Ms Frondoso was once jailed with her newborn child.

The leaders of the nearly 100-person newsroom say a portion of not being scared is being prepared. Ms Gloria said the company had practiced preparing for four scenarios: an arrest, a raid, a prison sentence and a closure. In February 2020, a dry run of the raid was so realistic that employees, who were not savvy, began broadcasting it on the website’s Facebook Live platform.

The fight for press freedom is now more complex than it was in the 1980s, Ms Gloria said, “because the iconic attacks are insidious, systematic and pervasive.”

“If you are a Filipino journalist who is paid low wages and who works in an environment that is not at all financially and financially secure, your only asset is your reputation,” Ms Gloria said. “But when you are attacked by a troll army online and accused of corruption and baseless claims, you lose that right.

“That’s what our young journalists have done and are doing, and it really hardened them a little bit in terms of their courage,” she said.

The company offers advice for dealing with trolls: Get people involved and dismiss the lies. Report the threat to Facebook immediately. And use investigative skills to expose the people behind the trolling.

Like many newsrooms in the United States, the rapper struggles with the question of what it means to be objective today, especially in an environment where press freedom is under siege. The rapper’s news editor, Paterno Esmaquel II, said he asked interviewers a question about how they felt about the organization being attacked. There should be no absurd answers, he said.

“People think we just have to be transcribers and stenographers. This should not happen,” said Mr. Esmaquel. “Your survival is at stake, and if you don’t fight back, what are you?”

Jason Gutierrez Contributed reporting.

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