SPJ statement on Maria Ressa verdict
Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is incredibly disappointed in, and condemns the conviction of, journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos, Jr., for what a Philippines court is calling “cyber libel.”
“Although they are out on bail, this conviction is a huge setback for press freedom and sends the message that other journalists could also be punished for speaking truth to power when it comes to the Duterte government,” said Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ national president. “Maria is a dear friend of SPJ’s and we will do all we can to support her and Santos.”
Ressa and Santos were found guilty of cyber libel this morning in a case she and others have described as politically motivated by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. The case hinges on a story written in 2012, which alleged that businessman Wilfredo Keng had links to illegal drugs and human trafficking. However, the article was published by Rappler, the online news website for which Ressa is editor-in-chief, two years before the new cyber libel laws came into effect in the Philippines.
Prosecutors say that a correction made to the story after the law passed constituted a “republication” and meant it could be considered as “cyber libel.” Ressa was arrested last year in the Manila offices of Rappler for its coverage of Duterte and his brutal war on drugs.
“Ressa has been courageous and a fine example to so many journalists and press freedom supporters who are battling disinformation,” Newberry said. “We must stand up for her rights – and the rights of journalists everywhere – to report the truth.”
Ressa was named an SPJ Fellow of the Society last year and spoke at the Excellence in Journalism conference in San Antonio in September. She also gave the keynote address at SPJ’s World Press Freedom Day Summit in New York last year.
If Ressa is still out on bail at the time, she is scheduled as part of the SPJ International Community Talks, one-on-one conversations with journalists from around the world. The event, scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT June 23, is free but registration is required.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.