Director: Ramona S. Diaz
Words – Rhiannon Topham.
Press freedom has never been more threatened than it is right now. Journalists in the search for truth are in a constant state of vulnerability, having their reputations slashed and their safety compromised by anti-democracy devotees and social media trolls.
A Thousand Cuts, directed by Ramona S. Diaz, follows Maria Ressa, the co-founder and CEO of Filipino news organisation Rappler, as she and her team battle a heated conflict between journalists and President Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippine government.
We’re all very much aware of the debates around press freedom in Western countries, painfully so in the context of the US and UK. If you’re a journalist who doesn’t subscribe to the diatribe of your nation’s right-wing head of state, and you don’t kowtow to the fake news permeating every corner of the web, then you almost instantly expose yourself to relentless abuse and institutionalised menace. But how many of us can say we were aware of the situation in the Philippines?
As Ressa eloquently explains in the documentary, Cambridge Analytica used countries such as the Philippines as a “dry run” to test their capacity for public manipulation via the internet and social media. The Philippines, coincidentally, has the highest rate of internet consumption per capita in the world. It feels almost sci-fi, something Ridley Scott would have conjured up in the 1980s as a warning of a dystopian future.
Under Duterte’s nationalist leadership, thousands of Filipinos have been murdered for suspected drug use and dealing. Ressa and her Rappler colleagues have tried valiantly to do their jobs as journalists with integrity and hold the government accountable, to a barrage of online hatred. Ressa has also been arrested on numerous occasions. She becomes embroiled in the story of modern Filippino politics simply by doing her job and sticking to her values. Instead of employing the typical sit-down or talking heads type of commentary seen in documentaries, Diaz captures the events of A Thousand Cuts in real-time and augments this with news footage to guide the story.
The crescendo of the snowballing political and social was the 2019 senatorial elections, when national and international assaults on the press serves as a timely reminder that, as a society, we are nothing without our ability to question our elected officials about the humanitarian calamities they have authorised.
Details of A Thousand Cuts screening at the 2021 Human Rights Watch Film Festival can be found here: