Who is Maria Ressa? Philippines' first Nobel winner shone light on drugs war

Chief executive of news site 'Rappler' has persisted despite harassment and legal challenges

Maria Ressa holds up documents outside a courtroom after posting bail in one of the numerous legal cases brought against her. AP
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The first Filipino to win a Nobel prize, journalist Maria Ressa was honoured by peace prize jurors in Norway for refusing to back down when covering the deadly drug war in her country.

The UN says the drugs purge led by President Rodrigo Duterte led to the deaths of thousands of people after police forces received an implicit “permission to kill”.

Mr Duterte has lashed out directly at Ressa’s news site, Rappler, which he described as a “fake news outlet” for a story about one of his closest aides.

Nobel jurors said Ressa, 58, had used her coverage to “expose abuse of power, use of violence and authoritarianism in her native country”.

They praised her for documenting how social media was used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public debate.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte presided over a bloody drugs purge linked to thousands of deaths. AP

A journalist for more than 30 years, Ressa co-founded Rappler in 2012 after previously working for CNN in the Philippines and Indonesia. She has written books about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

The Nobel prize, which she shared with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, is the latest in a series of honours for Ressa. She was a Time Person of the Year in 2018 and was later named as one of the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women.

In April, UN cultural agency Unesco awarded her its annual press freedom prize for what it said was her “unerring fight for freedom of expression”.

But her work has left her embroiled in legal battles, which she regards as an effort to silence her, although the Philippine government says it is not behind them.

Ms Ressa has described the series of libel cases as an “ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against me and Rappler”.

In one case, she is appealing against a conviction for cyber libel that could lead to her being her jailed for six years. Two other cases were dismissed this year, while Rappler has faced further struggles over its operating licence and tax affairs.

In addition to the legal sagas, she has described receiving up to 90 hate messages an hour on Facebook because of her public profile.

But savouring her Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, she said she and her colleagues would “just keep doing what we’re doing”.

“Nothing is possible without facts,” she said. “A world without facts means a world without truth and trust.”

She smiled as she said: “This is the best time to be a journalist. The times when it’s most dangerous are the times when it’s most important.”

Updated: October 10, 2021, 5:29 PM