Filipina journalist Maria Ressa has spent her 33-year career in journalism reporting from the front lines of war zones, dodging enemy fire as she meticulously plans out her coverage. But this week, Ressa is being honoured for her role in fighting a different type of battle: the "War on Truth.”
On Tuesday, Ressa, along with slain reporter Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists, was named TIME’s 2018 Person of the Year. Labeled by the magazine as "The Guardians," the group of honourees is comprised of members of the press who have risked their lives — or paid the ultimate price — in service of telling hard truths.
In addition to being a reporter, Ressa is also the chief executive of the Philippine news website Rappler, which she founded in 2012. The site has won praise for its clear-eyed coverage of the administration of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, even as the president moves to increasingly silence the voices of would-be critics in the country and oversees an extrajudicial crackdown on drug use that has left an estimated 12,000 people dead.
For TIME’s cover story on the "War on Truth," writer Karl Vick mused that our current global political moment, "ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward, an informed citizenry being essential to self-government. Instead, it's in retreat."
Reporters like Ressa are at the vanguard of the movement charged with staving off such a retreat. During her time reporting in the Philippines, Ressa told TIME that one of the most daunting challenges she’s witnessed has been the chilling effect the country’s social media has had on democracy, as Duterte’s administration has co-opted platforms like Facebook to serve as propaganda arms.
“Technology has no morals and values, and the group that actually figured out how to use it and weaponise it, are the authoritarian style leaders.” Ressa told TIME, “The exponential attacks on social media, the inciting to hate just for doing your job. You have no idea when it erupts into real-world violence.”
While Ressa’s cause — championing democracy under the rule of an increasingly authoritarian regime — is objectively noble, her struggle hasn’t been without consequence. On Tuesday, 11th December, the same day TIME published her featured cover, Ressa posted bail ahead of the issuance of warrants of arrest for four charges of tax evasion in her home country. She has consistently maintained that the charges are politically motivated, and part of a widespread effort to muzzle an independent press in the Philippines.
In an interview with CNN, Ressa said that being a journalist in 2018 is "bittersweet and it's daunting. Look at the challenges we are facing."
She added that while it’s currently a, "tough time to be a journalist… what strengthens all of us is that there's probably no better time to be a journalist, because this is when we live our values and we live our mission."