Veteran Philippine journalist Maria Ressa on Saturday said her Nobel Peace Prize was for “all journalists around the world,” as she vowed to continue her battle for press freedom.
Ressa, co-founder of news website Rappler, and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov were awarded the prize on Friday for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression.”
“This is really for all journalists around the world,” Ressa, a vocal critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, told AFP in an interview.
“We do need help on so many fronts — it is so much more difficult and dangerous to be a journalist today.”
Philippine press groups and rights activists hailed Ressa’s award as a “triumph” in a country ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous for journalists.
Since Duterte was swept to power in 2016, Ressa and Rappler have endured what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks.
Duterte has called Rappler a “fake news outlet,” and Ressa has been the target of abusive messages online.
Ressa, 58, said she hoped the prize would provide a protective shield for her and other journalists in the Philippines against physical attacks and online threats.
“This ‘us against them’ was never the creation of the journalists, it was the creation of the people in power who wanted to use a type of leadership that divides society,” Ressa said, describing the award “like a shot of adrenalin.”
“I hope… this allows journalists to do our jobs well without fear.”
Ressa has been a staunch critic of Duterte and his government’s policies, including a drug war that rights groups estimate has killed tens of thousands of mostly poor men.
Rappler was among the domestic and foreign media outlets that published shocking images of the killings and questioned its legal basis.
International Criminal Court judges have authorized a full-blown investigation into a possible crime against humanity during the bloody campaign.
Other media outlets have fallen foul of Duterte, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcasting giant ABS-CBN, which lost its free-to-air license last year.
But Ressa said Rappler’s independence meant it could fight back. “We have no other businesses to protect… so it’s very easy for us to push back,” she said.
Ressa said she had been issued 10 arrest warrants in less than two years and still faced seven court cases, including for tax evasion, which she described as “ludicrous” and would win.
She is on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber libel case, for which she faces up to six years in prison.
Two other cyber libel cases were dismissed earlier this year.
“That abuse of power would have worked if I allowed the fear in my emotions and in my head to dominate our reaction — the biggest challenge was always to conquer your fear,” she said.
“Being fearless doesn’t mean not being afraid, it just means knowing how to handle your fear.”
The author of “How to Stand Up to a Dictator” hopes to get permission to travel to Norway to pick up her Nobel Prize.
‘Battle for facts’
The Philippine election season, which got under way this month with candidates registering for more than 18,000 posts from president to town councillor, would be “critical” for the country, said Ressa, calling it an “existential moment.”
Voters will choose in May the successor to Duterte, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a second six-year term.
Surveys show Duterte’s daughter, Sara, and the son and namesake of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos among the front runners for the top job. Sara has denied plans to run.
“This is going to be a battle for facts,” Ressa said, warning the spread of disinformation on social media platforms could threaten the “integrity” of the election.
Filipinos are among the world’s heaviest users of social media, and the country has become a key battleground for fake news.
Throughout the campaign against her, Ressa, who is also a US citizen, has remained based in the Philippines and continued to speak out against Duterte’s government despite the risks.
“I joke all the time and sometimes say I really should thank President Duterte because you don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight for it,” Ressa said.
“I know who I am now.”