By our correspondent
The International Press Institute (IPI) has, in strong terms, condemned the legal harassment of its member, Maria Ressa, by the authorities of Philippines over an alleged case of libel.
The IPI made the condemnation in Vienna, Austria during the semi-annual meeting of the Executive Board members of the Institute composed of 24 leading editors and media executives from 20 countries, including the Chairman of Peoples Daily newspaper, Mal Wada Maida who is also on the board of IPI.
The IPI board jointly called on the Philippines authorities to end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of fellow Board member Maria Ressa.
An official IPI statement yesterday said that Ressa faces a verdict on April 3 in a politically motivated “cyber-libel” trial, adding that she faces up to 12 years in prison in the case, one of 11 criminal complaints against her.
The statement reads in part: “The undersigned members of the International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Board condemn in the strongest terms the continued legal harassment of our fellow Board member Maria Ressa ahead of an expected verdict in a spurious “cyber-libel” case, one of 11 criminal complaints pending against her.
“The 11 cases filed against Maria Ressa, the founder and editor of the online news site Rappler, are a transparent attempt to silence her and shut down Rappler in retaliation for its critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration.
“The harassment of Rappler is part of a larger assault on press freedom in The Philippines under President Duterte. The Duterte administration’s actions against the media gravely violate the fundamental rights to press freedom and freedom of expression, and undermine the Philippine public’s right to access and receive independent news and information.
“Maria Ressa is a journalist and editor of the highest calibre. She and Rappler, the recipient of 2018 IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer Award, have displayed great courage in defending press freedom and continuing to deliver quality news in the public interest. We – editors and media executives from 20 countries on five continents – stand in solidarity with Maria Ressa in the face of the authorities’ efforts to intimidate her and stop her from doing her job, including through the threat of imprisonment,” the statement said.
It adds: “We also vehemently condemn the vicious online attacks and smear campaigns against Maria Ressa, and other journalists at Rappler which are a further attempt to bully them into silence and deliberately undermine their credibility. These attacks are unacceptable and unworthy of a democratic society.
“The ongoing cyber-libel trial against her, set to conclude on April 3, must end with an acquittal. These charges, which relate to an article published eight years ago, are manifestly baseless. The offence of cyber-libel should be repealed to ensure it will not be abused against journalists in the future.
“We call on the Philippine authorities to drop all other charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler, ensure that all attacks – online and offline – against journalists are investigated, and stop all forms of harassment and intimidation against the media,” the statement said.
The statement was signed jointly by Zaffar Abbas, Editor, Dawn newspaper, Pakistan; Mahfuz Anam, Editor & Publisher, The Daily Star, Bangladesh; Beata Balogová, Editor-in-Chief, SME, Slovakia; Ole Kristian Bjellaanes, Managing Editor, Norwegian News Agency, Norway and
Woosuk Kenneth Choi, Editor, Chosun Ilbo, South Korea.
Other signatories include John Daniszewski, Vice President, Standards, Editor at Large The Associated Press, USA; Monika Eigensperger, Director of Radio, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), Austria; Stephen Gitagama, Group CEO, Nation Media Group, Kenya; Kadri Gürsel, Chair, IPI Turkey National Committee, Turkey and Sami El Haj, Head, Human Rights and Public Liberties Desk, Aljazeera Media Network, Qatar.
Also signatories to the statement are Kim Fletcher, Editor, The British Journalism Review, UK; Johannes Hano, Bureau Chief, ZDF German Television (New York/Canada), Germany; David Jordan, Director, Editorial Policy, BBC, UK
; Hiroshi Komatsu, Editor-in-Chief, The Mainichi Shimbun, Japan; Daoud Kuttab, Director General, Community Media Network; Founder, AmmanNet, Jordan; Wada Maida, Chairman, People’s Media Limited, Nigeria; Riyad Mathew, Editor, Malayala Manorama and The Week, India; Kaius Niemi, Senior Editor-in-Chief, Helsingin Sanomat, Finland and Khadija Patel, Editor-in-Chief, Mail & Guardian, South Africa.
Other signatories include Virginia Pérez Alonso, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Publico.es; Chair, Platform for the Defence of Free Expression (PDLI), Spain; Markus Spillmann, Founder & CEO, SPILLMANN Media Strategy Management GmbH, Switzerland; Martha Steffens, Professor, SABEW Chair in Business and Financial Reporting, University of Missouri School of Journalism, USA and John Yearwood, Deputy Editor, Politico, USA.