MOSCOW (AP) – Journalists Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 Friday for their fight for free speech in countries where journalists have faced persistent attacks, harassment and even murder.
Ressa and Muratov were honored for their “brave” work, but were also seen as “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world where democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly unfavorable conditions,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen , chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
In 2012, Ressa co-founded Rappler, a news site that the committee noted had focused critical attention on President Rodrigo Duterte’s “controversial, murderous campaign against drugs” in the Philippines.
She and Rappler “have also documented how social media is used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse,” it said.
Muratov was one of the founders in 1993 of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which the Nobel Committee called “the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude to power.”
“The newspaper’s fact – based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information about criticisable aspects of Russian society that are rarely mentioned by other media,” it added, noting that six of its journalists have been killed since its inception.
Ressa, the first Filipino to win the Peace Prize and the first woman to be honored with a Nobel Prize this year, was convicted of libel last year and sentenced to prison in a decision seen as a major blow to pushing global freedom.
Currently out on bail but facing seven active legal cases, Ressa, 58, said she hopes the award will strengthen investigative journalism “that will hold power accountable.”
“This relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against me and my fellow journalists in the Philippines is a strong example of a global trend,” she told the Associated Press.
She also pointed to giants on social media like Facebook as a serious threat to democracy, saying “they actually prioritized the spread of lies permeated with anger and hatred over facts.”
“I did not think that what we were going through would get that attention. But the fact that it did, also shows you how important the battles we face are not, right? ” she said. “This is how our election will be next year. It’s a battle of facts. When you’re in a fight over facts, journalism is activism. ”
Muratov, 59, told reporters he sees the award as an award to Novaya Gazeta journalists and contributors killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, who covered Russia’s bloody conflict in Chechnya.
“It’s a recognition of the memory of our fallen colleagues,” he said.
“Since the Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded posthumously, they figured this out so that Anya could take it, but through others, second hand,” Muratov said, referring to Politkovskaya.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 17 media workers were killed in the Philippines in the last decade and 23 in Russia.
Muratov said he would use part of his share of the $ 10 million prize money (over $ 1.14 million) to help independent media as well as a Moscow hospice and children with spinal cord problems.
Former Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev used some of his prize money to fund what was to become Novaya Gazeta. He congratulated Muratov on Friday, calling him “a wonderful, brave and honest journalist and my friend.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also praised Muratov as a “talented and brave” person who “has consistently worked according to his ideals.”
But Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted that Novaya Gazeta’s editorial policy “has nothing to do with strengthening peace” and that “such controversial decisions reduce the value of the award.”
Moscow-based political analyst Abbas Gallyamov said the award was “a painful strike against the Russian authorities … because freedom of speech and the principles of independent journalism are an evil in the eyes of the Russian authorities.”
As part of a new attack on independent journalists in Russia, the government has designated some of them as “foreign agents”, saying they received funding from abroad and participated in undescribed “political activities”. Muratov said he asked officials who congratulated him on whether he would now also receive this designation, but received no response.
The state news agency RIA Novosti quoted legislator Alexander Bashkin as saying that the Nobel Peace Prize would not fall under the definition of foreign funding under the bill on foreign agents.
Referring to hopes from many in Russia that the award would go to imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Muratov said he would have voted for him if he were in committee, adding that “everything is still ahead of him. “
Some critics have questioned whether the honor of journalists respected the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel’s will and its original purpose of preventing war, but Reiss-Andersen said freedom of speech was crucial to peace.
“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” she said. “Without freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote brotherhood between nations, disarmament and a better world order in order to succeed in our time.”
She also cited the danger of misinformation and attacks on journalists by executives who condemned them as providers of “fake news.”
“Disseminating false news and information that is propaganda and untrue is also a violation of freedom of expression, and all freedom of expression has its limitations. It is also a very important factor in this debate, ”she said.
The media rights group Reporters Without Borders celebrated the announcement, expressing “joy and urgency.”
Director Christophe Deloire called it “an extraordinary tribute to journalism, an excellent tribute to all journalists who take risks around the world to defend the right to information.”
“Journalism is in danger, journalism is weakened, journalism is threatened. Democracies are weakened by disinformation, by rumors, by hate speech, “said Deloire, whose group has worked with Ressa and Muratov to defend defense journalism in their countries and regularly comes under criticism from authoritarian governments.
Following the announcement, the Nobel Committee itself was put on the spot by a reporter who asked about its decision to award the Peace Prize in 2019 to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed, who has since become embroiled in a domestic conflict with the powerful Tigray region.
“Today I will not comment on other Nobel laureates and other issues than we have on the table today, but I can mention that the situation of press freedom in Ethiopia is very far from ideal and faces serious restrictions,” Reiss-Andersen said. .
This week, the Nobel Committee also awarded the following prizes:
– The prize in physiology or medicine went to the Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of how the human body perceives temperature and touch.
– The prize in physics went to three researchers whose work found order in apparent disorder, helps explain and predict complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.
– The prize in chemistry went to Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan to find an easier and environmentally cleaner way to build molecules which can be used to make compounds, including medicines and pesticides.
-The prize for literature went to the British Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah, which was recognized for its “uncompromising and compassionate intrusion into the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee.”
The award for outstanding work in economics will be presented on Monday.
Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland and Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Kostya Manenkov in Moscow, Masha Macpherson in Paris, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.
Read more stories about Nobel Prizes past and present by The Associated Press at https://www.apnews.com/NobelPrizes