True grit

James Evelegh's editorial from this week's edition of InPubWeekly.

By James Evelegh

True grit

WAN-IFRA’s Golden Pen of Freedom was last week awarded to Maria Ressa, co-founder, CEO and executive editor of the online Filipino news site, Rappler.

She was recognised for her “unwavering commitment to the values of a free press, as well as her determination to continue exposing stories of vital importance for democracy in the Philippines amidst intense pressure from the government and its supporters”.

The UK is ranked a dispiriting 40th in the World Press Freedom Index, which means that journalists here face increasing restrictions from governments that should know better; the Philippines ranks 133rd, and journalists in that country face a lot worse.

Maria Ressa said: “You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it… We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: we did not duck, we did not hide."

Since the election of President Duterte, says WAN-IFRA, Rappler has fallen victim to a deliberate and highly targeted online campaign by his supporters, that seeks to discredit the media organisation and drown out criticism. In parallel, Maria Ressa has been the target of an increasingly hostile, gender-targeted hate campaign designed to undermine her credibility and the legitimacy of Rappler’s reporting.

Hats off to Maria Ressa and her team; credit too to organisations like WAN-IFRA for drawing the world’s attention to brave journalists like her.

Western liberal values are getting routinely trashed by demagogues and wannabe dictators, so it has never been more important than now for our leaders to stand up for those values.

They must consistently promote press freedom and champion the rights of journalists. Countries that aspire to good relations with us, like North Korea, should never be in any doubt as to what we expect.

Unfortunately, not all liberal democracies have liberal leaders.