Maria Ressa to receive UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize

Maria Ressa | Photo from Twitter/@mariaressa

RAPPLER co-founder and chief executive officer Maria Ressa is set to be awarded the prestigious press freedom prize from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Ressa has been named as the 2021 laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, following the recommendation of an international jury of media professionals, the UN’s cultural agency on Tuesday, April 27.

“Maria Ressa’s unerring fight for freedom of expression is an example for many journalists around the world. Her case is emblematic of global trends that represent a real threat to press freedom, and therefore to democracy,” said Italian investigative journalist Marilu Mastrogiovanni, chair of the Prize’s international jury.

UNESCO highlighted Ressa’s more than three-decade career as a journalist, adding that she has been involved in many initiatives to promote press freedom.

The agency pointed out that Ressa’s work made her the target of online attacks and judicial processes relating to her investigative reporting and status as Rappler CEO.

Last year, Ressa was convicted of cyber libel over an article involving businessman Wilfredo Keng.

In January this year, she was charged with cyber libel anew over an article about an alleged thesis-for-sale scheme by a professor of the De La Salle – College of St. Benilde.

“[Ressa] has been arrested for alleged crimes related to the exercise of her profession, and has been subject to a sustained campaign of gendered online abuse, threats, and harassment, which at one point, resulted in her receiving an average of over 90 hateful messages an hour on Facebook,” noted UNESCO in its news release.

The award ceremony, which will be streamed online, will take place on Sunday, May 2, in Windhoek, Namibia, during the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference.

The $25,000 (P1.21 million) prize “recognizes outstanding contributions to the defence or promotion of press freedom especially in the face of danger,” according to UNESCO.

The prize was named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 December 1986. It is funded by the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation (Colombia), the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland) and the Namibia Media Trust.

Before this, Ressa has received other awards such as the 2018 WAN-INFRA Golden Pen of Freedom, the 2020 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award of the Washington-based National Press Club, and the 2021 Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award.

She was also named Time Person of the Year in 2018, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 along with Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists.

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