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Under-pressure Rappler thrilled

It was the last day candidates could file to run in next year’s elections, and the journalists were watching to see who would try to replace Rodrigo Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte

Sui-Lee Wee   |   New York   |   Published 10.10.21, 12:25 AM

The young editors and reporters of the Philippine news site Rappler were already busy on Friday. It was the last day candidates could file to run in next year’s elections, and the journalists were watching to see who would try to replace Rodrigo Duterte, the President who for years has attacked Rappler and threatened its staff members.

Then Maria Ressa, one of the news outlet’s founders, heard she and a Russian journalist, Dmitri A. Muratov, had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their “courageous fight for freedom of expression”. She immediately texted her co-founders: “I won.” Word got out, and a slew of “OMGs” flooded the company’s Slack channel.

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For several hours, the staff said, they were energised by Ressa’s award. But they know tough times lie ahead. The news website could still be shut down. There are seven active court cases pending against Ressa and Rappler. The site’s journalists face immense pressure from online trolls, who have been emboldened by Duterte’s suggestion that reporters should be treated as “spies” who are “not exempted from assassination”.

“We need to fight and soldier on,” said Gemma Mendoza, who leads Rappler’s efforts to address disinformation in digital media. “You feel when you’re in this situation, that it is bigger than yourself. And having that feeling fuels you and you keep going.”

At stake is the future of one of the few independent journalistic institutions in the Philippines. With coverage about abuses by the police in Duterte’s war on drugs and stories about corrupt deals involving local businessmen, Rappler has come to symbolise fearless journalism.

Reporters for Rappler acknowledge these are trying times. The psychological burden of being trolled, especially in a newsroom where the median age is only 23, is draining. But they are still striving to — in the words of Ressa — “hold the line”.

In January 2018, the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it would revoke Rappler’s operating licence, saying the site had violated laws on foreign ownership.

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

New York Times News Service



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