Toms River North alum nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for press freedoms

All month long, News 12 is celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and today, we are introduced to a woman from Ocean County who is being recognized around the world for her work on behalf of human rights.

News 12 Staff

May 24, 2021, 9:56 AM

Updated 1,094 days ago


News 12 New Jersey is celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. A former Ocean County resident is being recognized worldwide for her work on behalf of human rights.
If the Toms River North High School class of 1982 had awarded a student with most likely to be facing years in prison or most likely to be nominated for a Nobel peace prize for challenging an allegedly authoritarian foreign regime, Maria Ressa likely would not have been the choice.
“I played in the orchestra. I embraced being a nerd, it’s OK. I did student government. It gave me so much,” Ressa says.
Ressa is the co-founder and CEO of Rappler, a major digital news outlet in the Philippines that employs 100 journalists.
She has been arrested eight times by Filipino authorities in what human rights advocates have widely called a blatant abuse of press freedoms by the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. All eight cases remain ongoing, including last June's conviction for cyber libel.
“For a story we published eights year earlier. A story I didn’t write, editor or supervise at the time - when the law we supposedly violated didn’t exist,” Ressa says. “This kind of gives you the world I live in right now, where we’re trying desperately to keep doing our jobs to not let the weaponization of the law and the intimidation tactics intimidate us.”
It is a lesson that Ressa learned early in Toms River as an immigrant kid who thrived in the school’s music and AP programs. She also met the crucial test of facing a neighborhood bully.
“I learned in Toms River, you know, how do you stand up to a bully? You stand up and you pray that your friends will stand up with you,” Ressa says.
Years later and the friends who have come to her side include the committee considering her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and Time Magazine, which included her in its 2018 People of the Year list.
Ressa has been widely recognized as one of the world’s strongest voices for press freedom. She has also been a leading critic of disinformation campaigns.
“I would put that down to social media that has really polarized us and has radicalized us. And when people can't tell what the lies are versus what the truth is…A basic factor of friendships of doing anything is trust. And when you don't have trust, you can't do anything meaningful,” she says.
Toms River North is currently renovating its auditorium, which will feature Ressa’s name. It is expected to be completed by the fall.

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