ECONOMYNEXT – High-profile Philippine journalist Maria Ressa has been found guilty of libel in the Philippines’ in a case seen as a test of the country’s media freedom.
The former CNN journalist is the head of a news site that’s critical of strongman President Rodrigo Duterte.
A writer for the site, Rappler, was also convicted. Both have been released on bail pending appeal – but could face six years in prison.
Ressa denied the charges and claimed they were politically motivated.
Rappler has been tenacious in reporting the President’s war on drugs which had resulted in dozens of deaths described as extra-judicial killings.
But the president and his supporters have accused her, and her site, of reporting fake news.
In a country where journalists are under threat, Ressa’s case became symbolic and closely-followed – both domestically and internationally.
“Rappler and I were not the only ones on trial,” Ressa told the BBC after the verdict.
“I think what you’re seeing is death by a thousand cuts – not just of press freedom but of democracy.”
In a CNN interview, Ressa said the government should be listening to journalists.
“We need to get used to the idea of checks and balances.”
The case relates to an eight-year-old Rappler story alleging businessman Wilfredo Keng had links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. It also said he lent his car to a top judge.
The article was written by former Rappler journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr who on Monday was found guilty alongside Ressa.
The prosecution came under a “cyber-libel” law which came into force in September 2012 – four months after Rappler published the article.
(Colombo, June 16, 2020)