Nobel Peace Prize goes to journalists in the Philippines and Russia
Journalist Maria Ressa speaks with reporters on March 29, 2019, after posting bail in a trial court in Metro Manila, Philippines. This Friday, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Ressa and journalist Dmitry Muratov for the fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. // AP, Aaron Favila
Updated October 8, 2021, 1:23 p.m. ET
Two journalists crusading in the Philippines and Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize this year. The Norwegian Nobel Committee congratulated Maria Ressa, co-founder of the digital news site Rappler, and Dmitry Muratov, longtime editor of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, for fighting for freedom of expression and holding power to account.
The committee singled out Ressa and Rappler for denouncing what it called Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “murderous drug campaign”, which claimed thousands of lives. He also praised her for highlighting how political actors use social media to spread false information in order to manipulate public debate.
The committee also cited Muratov for his decades of work for freedom of expression in Russia “under increasingly difficult conditions”. Founding member of the collective of journalists who launched Novaya Gazeta in 1993, Muratov oversaw the newspaper’s investigations and critical reporting on Kremlin policy, corruption, war, and human rights.
Recent stories include prosecution of gay men in the Chechen Republic, an investigation into the Kremlin’s alleged role in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash over eastern Ukraine in 2014, and allegations that the government reportedly tried to rig Russian parliamentary elections last month.
The newspaper also paid a heavy price for its coverage: six of its reporters were killed in the course of their work, including star journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in her apartment building in Moscow in 2006.
“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” said the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
The price of peace comes at an extremely difficult time for journalism. Authoritarian rulers have increasingly targeted journalists in recent years. In 2020, 21 journalists were killed around the world in retaliation for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It was about double the previous year.
Meanwhile, social media has become the vehicle for a wave of disinformation aimed at undermining the credibility of fact-based news outlets.
“I hope the delivery of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize will remind authorities in the Philippines, Russia and around the world of the need to respect journalists and journalism,” said Ressa, who faces multiple criminal charges in the Philippines and was prevented from leaving the country. Human rights groups have condemned the legal proceedings against her. “Independent journalism that holds power to account has never been more important.”
Speaking to a melee of journalists and supporters outside Novaya Gazetafrom the Moscow office, Muratov, 59, dedicated the award to his deceased colleagues.
“For us, this award is first and foremost a recognition of the memory of our fallen colleagues,” said Muratov. He also praised a new generation of young journalists who have come in their place and said the newspaper intends to split the prize money between social projects and supporting small journalism startups. independent who face increasing pressure from the government.
Russian independent media have fought a web of restrictive government laws on “foreign agents”, widely seen as an attempt to silence independent voices. While Gazet of the Novaïahas so far avoided the designation of “foreign agent”, its journalists admit that the future of the newspaper is far from assured in the current political climate. “Now there are only a few independent media left in our country”, Novaya Gazeta reporter Pavel Kanygin told NPR. “We are struggling to survive, and maybe this award will give us some protection from our enemies.”
Yet even Muratov admitted that he was not sure that the Nobel Peace Prize money would violate the law.
“I asked a government bureaucrat who congratulated me if getting the Nobel meant we would be labeled as foreign agents. He couldn’t tell me,” Muratov said, adding that the newspaper did not. no intention to refuse the prize.
Ressa, 58, was born in the Philippines but moved to New Jersey and attended Princeton University, where she worked in theater. The other students remembered her as “a ball of energy” and expected great things in her future.
“She was always the smart kid. She worked really hard,” recalls Leslie Tucker, a longtime college friend. “I always knew she was more than capable, but on the other hand, she’s reserved and [doesn’t like being] the center of attention. “
This remains true today. Winner of numerous press freedom awards in recent years, Ressa has at times seemed uncomfortable with all accolades and has often tried to distract attention by complementing others.
After graduating from college in 1986, she returned to the Philippines as a Fulbright Fellow and turned to journalism, running CNN’s offices in Manila, Philippines, and Jakarta, Indonesia, for nearly two decades. Ressa co-founded Rappler as a disjointed digital news site in 2012, rapidly growing its audience through social media, especially Facebook.
After Rappler targeted the government’s brutal campaign against drugs, Ressa and the site came under sustained and coordinated attacks on social media – including death threats – by Duterte supporters. This story is covered in the documentary A thousand cuts.
“Technology has enabled Rappler’s rapid growth,” Ressa said in an opening speech at Princeton in 2020, “but we were also among the first victims when social media was militarized in 2016”.
Once a Facebook fan, Ressa was among the first and strongest voices to be alarmed at its corrosive effect on social discourse.
“Facebook has broken democracy in many countries around the world, including mine,” she said.
Frank Langfitt reported from London; Charles Maynes reported from Moscow.