Friday, October 8, 2021 10:44 pm
By Cecilia Ologunagba
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has, on Friday, congratulated two campaigning journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, for winning the 2021 prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
Guterres said the award was a recognition that a free press is “essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights – and the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions”.
From the Philippines, Ressa , Chief Executive and co-founder of online news outlet Rappler, and Russia’s Muratov, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, were named as the 2021 laureates by Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee.
“No society can be free and fair without journalists, who are able to investigate wrongdoings, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power,” the UN Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted Guterres as saying in his message congratulating the laureates.
Yet anti-media rhetoric and attacks against media workers continue to rise, observed the top UN official.
“We are seeing growing violence and harassment against journalists, in person and online”, he said. “Women journalists are often subjected to particular abuse”.
At the same time, technology has transformed the ways in which information is received and shared – and regularly used to mislead public opinion or to fuel violence and hatred.
Pointing out that “falsehoods trump facts” too often in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guterres stressed that “this cannot become the new normal”.
“Free and independent journalism is our greatest ally in combating misinformation and disinformation,” the UN chief said.
“As we congratulate the award winners, let us reaffirm the right to press freedom, recognise the fundamental role of journalists and reinforce efforts at every level to support a free, independent and diverse media”.
For over three decades, Ressa has promoted press freedom, which at times, made her a target for attacks and abuse.
After publishing stories critical of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his drugs war, the 58-year-old faced multiple criminal charges and investigations.
According to the UN cultural organisation, UNESCO, Ressa had been arrested for “alleged crimes related to the exercise of her profession”.
She was subjected to a sustained campaign of gendered online abuse, threats and harassment, which at one point, resulted in her receiving an average of over 90 hateful messages an hour on Facebook.
The former lead investigative journalist for Asia at CNN and head of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, Ressa was also among a group of journalists named in 2018 as Time Magazine’s person of the year.
Dmitry Muratov’s newspaper is one of the few remaining in Russia that was highly critical of the ruling elite, particularly President Vladimir Putin.
It has reportedly been subjected to threats and harassment, including over its coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya.
The award came a day after the 15th anniversary of the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, one of six murdered Novaya Gazeta reporters.
According to media reports, the 59-year-old laureate stated: “We will continue to represent Russian journalism, which is now being suppressed”.
He was later quoted as dedicating the award to “those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech”, citing Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya, Nastya Baburova, Natasha Estemirov and Stas Markelov – each of them murdered going about their work – saying: “This is for them”.
The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and more than $1.4 million dollars in prize money, from a bequest left by Swedish inventor, Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.