Two journalists whose work has angered the authorities in Russia and the Philippines won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday (8 October) for their “courageous fight for freedom of expression”.
Maria Ressa and Dimitry Muratov were credited by the Nobel Committee as “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”.
The award comes at a time when restrictions on the press and threats to the safety of journalists are on the rise globally. Often using the COVID-19 pandemic as a license, many governments have increased restrictions on the press and controls on information in recent years.
The Committee said it was “convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public… The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dimitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights”.
Renate Schroeder, director of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), told EURACTIV that she welcomed the news, saying the prize was “a slap in the face to all autocrats and enemies of press freedom”.
Ressa co-founded Manila-based news site Rappler in 2012, which has frequently been critical of the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte. Last year, she was convicted of cyberlibel, a charge widely seen as an assault on freedoms of expression and the press.
“Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines,” said the Nobel Committee, describing her as a “fearless defender of freedom of expression.”
“Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population”, it added.
Responding to the news in an interview with Rappler, Ressa said she and the news site have been “fighting for facts” since 2016.
“So in a battle for facts, I guess what this just shows is that the Nobel peace prize committee realised that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust.”
Since 1995, Russian journalist Muratov has been the editor of newspaper Novaja Gazeta, which he co-founded two years earlier and which has since become known for its independent and critical reporting.
Since the start, Novaja Gazeta has been the subject of numerous attacks by opponents and six of its journalists have been killed. “Despite the killings and the threats,” the Nobel Committee said, “editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy.”
“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”, it added.
Reacting to the news of his win, Muratov told Telegram news channel Podyom: “I am laughing. I didn’t expect it at all. It’s madness over here right now… We will continue to represent Russian journalism, which is now being suppressed.”
Dmitry Muratov dedicates his Nobel prize to the six Novaya Gazeta contributors who were assassinated or perished in suspicious circumstances – Igor Domnikov, Yury Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova and Natalia Estemirova. https://t.co/ffEM5E0LqT
— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) October 8, 2021
Press freedom: a global crisis
Russia, which media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked 150th out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, has seen a severe tightening of the restrictions on the press in recent years, with many critical news outlets and journalists branded “foreign agents”.
There has been a similar worsening of conditions in the Philippines, ranked 138th by RSF in 2021. The dangers faced by journalists have been particularly prevalent under the tenure of Duterte, who assumed power in 2016 and has brazenly attacked the media, prompting his inclusion in RSF’s “Press Freedom Predators” list earlier this year.
Across Europe, the situation for media professionals is also declining. The EU has launched or announced plans for a number of measures aimed at bolstering the media industry and protect its professionals. Just this week, the Commission launched a consultation on its upcoming initiative to tackle SLAPPs, abusive lawsuits used to silence journalists.
This followed September’s issuance of Recommendations on the Safety of Journalists, designed to advise EU countries on better defending their media workers against on and offline threats. The Commission is also set to propose a Media Freedom Act in 2022.
The choice of this year’s recipients, EFJ’s Schroeder said, “is indeed a recognition for all journalists who defend the ideal of press freedom of expression as a precondition for democracy.”
“This is coming at a time when press freedom is ever more attacked by politicians, but also by citizens who have been blind-eyed by the spread of disinformation feeding often illiberal and populist actors”, she added.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]