A High-Stakes Game of Chicken: Interviewing the Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a story which combined two of my greatest interests – gender and press freedom. I’ve interviewed Maria Ressa, the iconic Filipino journalist and the CEO of Rappler, an investigative media hub. Ressa shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with Russian editor Dmitri Muratov, and I’ve covered their historic win in a recent editorial for the Boston Globe.

I had wanted to meet Maria ever since I saw the documentary A Thousand Cuts, which details her struggles against the Philippine authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte. She was on my radar not only because of her stellar work, but most of all because she combines the features I value the most in journalists (or simply – in people). She is ethically-minded, kind and strong, but at the same time not afraid to be vulnerable. “Vulnerability is a strength. That’s where you find your courage and your empathy for others”, she told me when we met in person. 

Maria Ressa at a press conference, following her Nobel Peace Prize win. Source: Wikimedia Commons

We talked at Harvard, where Ressa spent a few weeks this fall as the Joan Shorenstein Fellow. On November 16th, she gave the prestigious Salant Lecture for the Freedom of Press, in which she spoke about the role social media has played in spreading disinformation and influencing election results in developing countries. I met her the next day in her office at the Harvard Kennedy School, and once again I was struck by how humane and humble she was. 

Here’s my favourite part of the interview:

“You were born in Manila but grew up and studied in the United States. As an adult, you chose to settle in the Philippines, where today you face decades in prison for doing your job, basically. And yet you plan to return. What keeps you going back?

The fact that I’m not a criminal. These are trumped-up charges. I won’t stop reporting because they dangle a threat over my head. It’s just not me. There’s a chapter in my upcoming book titled “Don’t become a monster to fight a monster.” Governments like in the Philippines count on you to police yourself, so my first rule has always been: no compromise. I would rather not be a journalist than be a journalist who’s compromised.

If I left, I would weaken those who are still standing up against the abuses of power. I would also leave my team, and that is out of the question. So to me, it’s like a high-stakes game of chicken. You just keep going. You put one foot in front of the other. I know I’m on the right side of history. Leaving would make my life, my journalistic career, a lie. It took me a while to say it, but now I deeply believe it: Silence is complicity.”

You can find the full interview on Globe Ideas.