MAD's statement of support on Maria Ressa's motion to travel to Norway
The undersigned organizations implore the indulgence of the Honorable Court of Appeals and other concerned agencies to grant and allow Ms. Maria A. Ressa’s Motion to Travel to Oslo, Norway, to attend and accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2021.
This historic occasion, whereby a Filipino will be honored to receive the most prestigious international award, cannot be understated. Between 1901 and 2021, only 109 individuals have been conferred with this award. This brings great honor and recognition not only to Ms. Ressa but to the Philippines, Filipinos both present and unborn, and all journalists whom she represents through this award. Her presence in the ceremony is symbolic, urgent and necessary.
Ms. Ressa’s conviction for Cyber Libel in 2020 is still under appeal, and until the same has been decided with finality, she is presumed innocent. She was allowed in the past to leave the country 36 times on bail, and returned and made herself available when the Court required her presence.
At the heart of the opposition against Ms. Ressa’s Motion to Travel is her perceived “total lack of respect for the judicial system,” owing to her “recurring criticisms of the Philippine legal processes in the international community.” We firmly contend that Ms. Ressa has not made any contemptuous statements directed against the Court and the legal system. We respectfully plead that while the Philippines remains a democracy, Ms. Ressa’s exercise of her right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the Constitution, must be protected and not weaponized against her. Paraphrasing the eminent Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, we emphasize that such freedom encompasses the thought we hate, no less than the thought we agree with.
Ms. Ressa, a veteran journalist, won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov to honor their “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition of democracy and lasting peace.” The spotlight was initially put on her in 2016, as Rappler, the online site that she co-founded, sounded off the alarm about the weaponization of social media to silence the critics of the government’s war on drugs. Ms. Ressa and her team’s critical reporting on the systematic use of paid trolls and sock puppet networks to influence and shift public opinion on key issues has started the public discourse and awareness on this subject matter. This in-depth work on the phenomenon of disinformation has made Ms. Ressa the target of vicious online attacks, along with strings of legal cases filed against her and Rappler.
The breakneck speed within which technology companies transform their business models, including the algorithms that they use to prioritize the contents that would be pushed to the fore of the information ecosystem, eludes and evades the ability of the state to understand and follow their implications on society. This inability of the state regulators to fully grasp the impact of disinformation in social media on the public at large renders impossible any attempt to implement effective guardrails that could protect the public interest.
It is in this context that the role of a robust and independent journalism has never become so important, urgent and far-reaching in upholding social order, anchored in democracy. As society becomes deeply divided and further splintered apart on critical issues, due to the proliferation of several versions of truth, journalists, such as Ms. Ressa, must continue to hold the line, speak truth to power and make sense of the chaos brought about by disinformation for the benefit of the public interest and the public good.
In view of the foregoing, we reiterate our supplication for the Honorable Court of Appeals and other concerned agencies to grant and allow Ms. Ressa’s Motion to Travel to Oslo, Norway. (29 November 2021, Monday)