Who is Maria Ressa?
Maria Ressa is a Filipina journalist, businesswoman, author, and global terrorism expert who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the online news website ‘Rappler’, which she had co-founded in 2012. During her early career, she had co-founded ‘Probe Productions’ with Cheche Lazaro to launch the award-winning investigative journalism series 'Probe Profiles'. She then worked for CNN for 17 years as Manila Bureau Chief and Jakarta Bureau Chief. Later, she had a six-year stint as the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs division head. She has also written two books on the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia, 'Seeds of Terror' and 'From Bin Laden to Facebook'. Throughout her illustrious career, she has received numerous honors and awards for her fearless and truthful journalism, including the 'Golden Pen of Freedom Award', the 'Knight International Journalism Award', the 'Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award', the 'Journalist of Courage and Impact Award' and the 'IX International Press Freedom Award'. Ressa, who has redefined journalism by combining traditional broadcast, new media and mobile phone technology, believes that "It’s about the news, and telling it well. The ratings will follow." She is unmarried and dedicates all her time to "fighting disinformation, fake news and attempts to silence the free press."
Childhood & Early Life
Maria A. Ressa was born on October 2, 1963 in the Philippines, but moved to New Jersey, United States with her parents when she was only 10. She had to learn to speak in English alongside her studies, and at the same time, learnt eight different musical instruments from piano to glockenspiel.
She initially wanted to pursue a medical degree, and joined a molecular biology course at Princeton University, but later switched to English, in which she earned her honors degree. She also took theatre classes at Princeton, acted in plays, sang in a band and played basketball.
After graduating cum laude from Princeton, she was considering a career as a playwright when she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and returned to the Philippines in 1986. She eventually earned her Master's degree in journalism from the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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Maria Ressa began her journalism career working for the iconic news program '60 Minutes' in the latter half of the 1980s and also worked in the news department of PTV-4. She then went on to become a producer for renowned television journalist Diane Sawyer.
In 1987, following the People Power Revolution (also known as the EDSA Revolution) in the Philippines, she co-founded Probe Productions with Cheche Lazaro, which began broadcast investigative journalism in the country with 'Probe Profiles'. The award-winning series, originally aired on ABS-CBN, saw immense success because of the press freedom that the revolt and the dismantling of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship had brought in.
Thanks to her American accent, she bagged the position of Manila Bureau Chief at CNN in 1988 and was the network's lead investigative reporter in Asia for the next 17 years. She also served as Jakarta Bureau Chief at CNN from 1995 to 2005.
During this time, she covered every major incident in the region, including riots of Indonesia (1998), East Timorese crisis (1999), and EDSA Revolution (2001), and interviewed several Asian heads of state from past and present. She primarily handled news regarding terrorism and actively pursued emerging terror groups in Southeast Asia.
In 2000, after the bombing of the Philippine ambassador’s house in Jakarta, she began to investigate the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and was the first to link the group to al-Qaeda. She later published her findings in the 2003 book 'Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda's Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia'.
Ressa, who was vacationing together with her parents in Batangas in December 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit, decided to leave CNN and settle in Makati, Manila, surprising even her family. In early 2005, she joined the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs division as the training consultant for Channel 2.
While she was only a reporter for CNN, she enjoyed her new job responsibilities at the new network, which included establishing and maintaining "international standards for reporting, technical services and operations". However, she continued to cover terrorism even after leaving CNN, and participated in an international terrorism conference in Bangkok in April 2005.
She continued to work as the head of her department at ABS-CBN until late 2010, when she sent an internal e-mail to the network declaring that she would not be renewing her six-year contract. In her letter, which was published on the network's website on October 11, 2010, she also detailed how she intended to make proper transition by handing over responsibilities to the new department head.
It was rumored at the time that she had returned to independent journalism because of differences with ABS-CBN over the newly appointed newsreaders for the 'TV Patrol' show that she had revived. In 2012, she went on to co-found the online news website 'Rappler', which would play a key role in the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
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In January 2018, it was reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had revoked the certificate of Rappler for violating the Philippine Constitution’s foreign equity restrictions on mass media. While the news came soon after President Rodrigo Duterte accused Rappler of having sold a controlling stake of the company to foreign firm Omidyar Network, Palace spokesman later denied any attempt to violate press freedom.
In November 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Rappler Holdings Corporation for tax evasion and failure to file tax returns. Describing it as yet another attempt by Government to gag the news outlet for being critical of it, Rappler published an article stating that the case was only for harassment and had no legal basis.
Maria Ressa, who dedicated her early journalism career to fight terrorism, has written two books concerning the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia. 'Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al- Qaeda Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia' was published in 2003, followed by 'From Bin Laden to Facebook 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism' in 2013.
Awards & Achievements
Maria Ressa was the youngest person ever to hold the position of a bureau chief at CNN.
For her "eyewitness account of Al-Qaeda", she was named the "sexiest woman alive" in the Philippines by 'Esquire' magazine in 2010.
In 2015, she received an 'Excellence In Broadcasting Lifetime Achievement' award at the 29th 'PMPC Star Awards for Television' by the Philippine Movie Press Club.
On behalf of Rappler, she was honored with the 2017 'Democracy Award' by the National Democratic Institute at the annual Democracy Award Dinner in Washington, D.C.
In June 2018, she won the prestigious 'Golden Pen of Freedom Award' from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-INFRA).
In December 2018, she became the second Filipino to receive Time's 'Person of the Year' honor after former President Corazon Aquino in 1986.
Little Known Facts
How far-reaching Maria Ressa's influence was in the field of journalism, is evident by the fact that videotapes of her coverage were found in Osama bin Laden’s lair in Afghanistan.
At the Princeton University, former US first lady Michelle Obama was her classmate.