Nobel Peace Laureate and Author Maria Ressa Acquitted

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

If convicted of her 2018 charges, Maria Ressa, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning author, could have been jailed for 10 years.

Journalist, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa gives a keynote address in May 2022 at Kristenn Einarsson‘s inaugural World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Ressa: ‘Integrity of Facts’
In Manila, the news medium that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa established, Rappler.com, is the go-to source, as the news has broken in the last 24 hours that Ressa was acquitted—for a fifth time—of tax evasion charges.

The journalist and HarperCollins author of How To Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future (2022) still faces two more court battles, but already had been acquitted earlier this year of the first four tax-evasion charges. The remaining two cases are an order to close Rappler‘s operations and a cyber-libel case from 2020 on which she reportedly is out on bail. Some reportage indicates that she and supporters hope these last charges may be dismissed.

Ressa’s legal struggles stem not from the current administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. but from the country’s previous Duterte regime. As Regine Cabato writes from Manila for the Washington Post, the charges began piling up in 2018 under Duterte’s government, when Ressa’s reporting was critical of that regime’s so-called “war on drugs.”

“Government accusations of foreign ownership and tax evasion,” Cabato writes for the Post today (September 12) “were widely viewed by human rights watchdogs as attempts to put Rappler out of business and silence one of the loudest critical voices in the press. The country’s biggest broadcasting network, ABS-CBN, was also taken off air.”

Rappler‘s statement on the news of Ressa’s new acquittal says, in part, “The  National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that the last tax acquittal further proves that the cases were filed [during the Duterte regime] ‘to harass and intimidate’ Ressa and Rappler over its critical reporting on the Duterte administration, including its violent war on drugs and widespread state-sponsored disinformation.”

The Philippines’ current president, Marcos Jr., has said that he won’t interfere in the Ressa cases, and today’s report from the Associated Press in Manila writes, “Ressa also said there appeared to be a ‘lifting of fear’ under the Philippines’ new leader … the namesake son of the dictator overthrown in the army-backed ‘people power’ uprising in 1986.”

Cabato at the Post writes “With Marcos seeking to rehabilitate his family image and court the West, maintaining Duterte-era grudges could be seen as counterproductive, experts say.”

Ressa, Cabato writes at the Post, if convicted of the newly acquitted charge, “would have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $1,700 fine.”

Ressa: ‘How To Build Meaning in Our Lives’

Articulate and agile, the diminutive Maria Ressa moves quickly around a stage when she speaks, punctuating her points with quick stops and swift hand gestures. She uses a stream-of-consciousness delivery that gives her onstage presence a fresh, exploratory energy. This helps an audience track her thoughts as colleagues, co-thinkers in her presentation.

In May 2022, when Ressa gave her keynote at Kristenn Einarsson‘s inaugural World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer, the intimidation that she had faced in the Duterte administration’s reactions to her work–she’s the CEO of Rappler–led her to point out to the audience in Norway that,  “Online violence is real-world violence.”

She wanted it clear to her listeners that disinformation in the political realm is a virulent form of that violence: “How can you have integrity of elections if you don’t have integrity of facts?”

Many will note the parallels between the court-case struggles Ressa is working through and the judiciary arena in which markets outside the Philippines, where efforts to turn back authoritarian dynamics appear to many to have their best chances to succeed.

In the opening lines of her book from HarperCollins, Ressa writes, “You don’t know who you are until you’re forced to fight for it. … If you’re lucky, you realize early on that each decision you make answers a question that all of us muddle through: how to build meaning in our lives.”

At WEXFO 2022, Maria Ressa speaks onstage with Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former prime minister of Denmark, left, and Anette Trettebergstuen, the Norwegian minister of culture and equality. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson


More on WEXFO is here. More on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here and more on the Norwegian publishing market is here. More from us on Kristenn Einarsson–chair of the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish committee–is here; more on the IPA Prix Voltaire, directed by James Taylor, is here; and more on political books is here.

Frankfurter Buchmesse has announced that the Philippines’ publishing industry is the trade fair’s guest of honor market for 2025. Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.