Maria Ressa: Nobel prize winner cleared of tax evasion by Philippine court

The co-founder of online news outlet Rappler said the charges were politically motivated

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Nobel prize winner Maria Ressa has been cleared of tax evasion by a court in the Philippines.

Ressa, who co-founded the Rappler news agency, worked for CNN for two decades and garnered a reputation for exposing politically motivated fake news.

“We need independent media that will hold power to account,” Ressa told reporters outside the court on Wednesday, after being cleared of allegations that her news agency failed to pay tax.

Ressa won the Nobel Prize in 2021 for defending press freedom and was an outspoken critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte, dismissing a series of lawsuits against her in recent years as politically motivated.

The court’s decision comes months after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr vowed to protect press freedom shortly after the killing of a veteran broadcaster in October.

His father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, shut down and took over major media outlets, including ABS-CBN Corporation, when he imposed martial law in 1972, only allowing several print media owned by his close associates to operate.

Ressa, who won international praise for investigations of alleged police abuses in Mr Duterte’s anti-drug efforts, still faces three other court cases.

One of them is her appeal against a cyber libel conviction that could lead to seven years in jail.

All these cases were filed during the Duterte’s administration time in office and journalism advocates say the case is part of a campaign of official intimidation.

Mr Duterte’s spokesman during his time in office has consistently denied his role in influencing the cases, calling the cyber libel conviction a result of “bad journalism” and “bad lawyering”.

Despite the favourable ruling for Ressa, her company Rappler is fighting an order from the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission to shut down for allegedly breaching rules against foreign ownership in mass media.

Rappler has denied the allegations in the past, accusing Mr Duterte’s government of harassment, intimidation and attempting to silence journalists.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 5:59 AM