OSLO — Journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their fight for freedom of expression in countries where media outlets have faced persistent attacks.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee stressed that an independent press is vital in promoting peace.
“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the committee, explaining why the prize was awarded to two journalists.
“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,” she said.
Ressa in 2012 co-founded Rappler, a news website that has focused “critical attention on the (President Rodrigo) Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign,” the Nobel committee said.
She and Rappler “have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”
Reacting to the news, Ressa told Norway’s TV2 channel that “the government (of the Philippines) will obviously not be happy,”
“I’m a little shocked. It’s really emotional,” she added. “But I am happy on behalf of my team and would like to thank the Nobel Committee for recognizing what we are going through.”
The award-winning journalist was last year convicted of libel and sentenced to jail in a decision seen as a major blow to press global freedom. She was the first woman to win a Nobel this year.
Muratov was one of the founders of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993.
“Novaya Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power,” the Nobel committee said.
“The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media,” it added.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 17 media workers were killed in the Philippines in the last decade and 23 in Russia.
The Nobel committee noted that since the launch of Novaya Gazeta, six of its journalists have been killed, among them Anna Politkovskaya who covered Russia’s bloody conflict in Chechnya.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised Muratov as a “talented and brave” person.
“We can congratulate Dmitry Muratov — he has consistently worked in accordance with his ideals,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
Reiss-Andersen noted that the peace prize has gone to journalists in the past, including Ernesto Teodoro Moneta of Italy who was cited in 1907 “for his work in the press and in peace meetings.”
In 1935, German journalist Carl von Ossietzky was awarded the prize “for his burning love for freedom of thought and expression” after revealing that the Nazi regime was secretly re-arming in breach of the World War I peace accord.
Ressa has been particularly critical also of the role of tech companies such as Facebook in manipulating public debate, and their failure to curb hate speech.
Speaking on Rappler’s site after the award was announced, Ressa said that the “virus of lies that has been introduced through the algorithms of the social media platforms, it infects real people and changes.”
Reiss-Andersen also noted the risks to free speech in today’s world due to the spread of fake news.
“Conveying fake news and information that is propaganda and untrue is also a violation of freedom of expression, and all freedom of expression has its limitations. That is also a very important factor in this debate,” she said.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders celebrated the announcement, expressing “Joy and urgency” in reaction to the news.
“Joy because this is an extraordinary tribute to journalism, an excellent tribute to all journalists who take risks everywhere around the world to defend the right to information,” the group’s director Christophe Deloire said from its Paris headquarters. The group, known by its French acronym RSF, has worked with Ressa and Muratov to defend journalism in their countries, and comes under regular criticism from authoritarian governments.
“And also urgency because it will be a decisive decade for journalism. Journalism is in danger, journalism is weakened, journalism is threatened,” Deloire said. “Democracies are weakened by disinformation, by rumors, by hate speech.”
“This prize is a great signal a very powerful message to defend journalism everywhere.”
After the announcement, the Nobel committee itself was put on the spot by a reporter who asked about its decision to award the 2019 peace prize to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has since become entangled 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 for freedom of press in Ethiopia is very far from ideal and is facing severe restrictions,” said Reiss-Andersen.
The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.14 million). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.
On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the prize in physiology or medicine to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries into how the human body perceives temperature and touch.
The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded Tuesday to three scientists whose work found order in seeming disorder, helping to explain and predict complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.
Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan were named as laureates of the Nobel Prize for chemistry Wednesday for finding an easier and environmentally cleaner way to build molecules that can be used to make compounds, including medicines and pesticides.
The Nobel Prize for literature was awarded Thursday to U.K.-based Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, who was recognized for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee.”
Still to come Monday is the prize for outstanding work in the field economics.