Friday, October 8, 2021 5:09 pm
By Nehru Odeh
The award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia on Friday put to an end speculations about who would win it among big names on a long list of 329 potential winners.
It also signifies the value of freedom of expression and individual liberties and the great works journalist are doing to promote democracies across the globe, even putting their lives and individual freedom at grave risk.
The winners of the prestigious prize, worth 10m Swedish krona (£836,000; $1.1m) were announced at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo.
The journalists, Ressa and Muratov, were honoured “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” said the Chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen.
“They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” she said.
“The Nobel Peace Prize is intended to honour an individual or organisation that has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations,
“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict.
“The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights,” the committee said in a statement.
“Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time,” it added
This award is significant because it is coming at a time freedom of expression and individual liberties especially in this age of social media is currently under strain and the distinction between democracies and dictatorships is shrinking and becoming vague and blurry
“It could not have come at a better time – a time when journalists and the truth are being attacked and undermined,” the statement said. Ressa, one of the winners also echoed the same thought. “Journalism has never been as important as it is today.”
Ressa, 58, who co-founded the news site Rappler, was commended for using freedom of expression to “expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines”.
She told Norwegian TV2 she was “shocked” and “emotional” to receive the honour, which she said would give her and her colleagues “tremendous energy to continue the fight.”
In a live broadcast by Rappler, Ms Ressa said her win showed that “nothing is possible without facts… a world without facts means a world without truth and trust”.
In a statement, Rappler, on its part, said it was “honoured and astounded” that its chief executive had been given the prize. “It could not have come at a better time – a time when journalists and the truth are being attacked and undermined,” it said.
The Nobel committee said Mr Muratov, the co-founder and editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, had for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions.
“I’m laughing. I didn’t expect this at all. It’s madness here,” Muratov said in an interview with the popular Telegram channel Podyom. He called the prize “retribution for Russian journalism which is being repressed now”.
Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, while congratulating Muratov, said: “He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented, he is brave.”
In 2012, Ressa co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads, while Muratov is one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Rappler has “focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign,” Reiss-Andersen said, adding that “the number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population.”
Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.
Ressa, a former CNN correspondent who also holds US citizenship, is currently on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber-libel case, for which she faces up to six years in prison.
According to the Guardian, Ressa has become a symbol of the fight for press freedom in an era of strongmen leaders. Ressa and Rappler have faced multiple criminal charges and investigations after publishing stories critical of Duterte and his bloody drug war.
She had already been named a Time Person of the Year in 2018 for her work on press freedom, but the arrests further grew her international profile and drew more attention to her case. Her reporting has unleashed what media advocates say is a grinding series of criminal charges, two arrests and a deluge of online threats against her and Rappler.
The website has had to fight for survival as Duterte’s government has accused it of violating a constitutional ban on foreign ownership in securing funding, as well as libel and tax evasion. Duterte has also attacked Rappler by name, calling it a “fake news outlet”, over a story about one of his closest aides.
Ressa has remained based in the Philippines and continued to speak out against Duterte’s government despite the risks. “I’m not a sole reporter,” Ressa told AFP in an interview last year. “My job is to hold up the ceiling, it has been for a while… so that our folks can continue working.”
The most recent case saw a second libel charge against Ressa dismissed in August. Another libel charge against her was dismissed in June.
Muratov, 59, has defended freedom of speech in Russia for decades, under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he co-founded Novaya Gazeta, which has a “fundamentally critical attitude towards power” the committee said. He has been its editor-in-chief since 1995. Novaya Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder.
Since the start of the newspaper, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” Reiss-Andersen said.
“He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism,” she maintained.