Defending ‘prerequisites for democracy’: Nobel awardees Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov


Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their fights to defend freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. The Nobel committee called the pair “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal,” the BBC reports.

Seeking to bolster press freedoms as journalists find themselves under increasing pressure from authoritarian governments and other hostile forces, the Committee awarded the prize to two journalists thousands of miles apart for their tireless efforts to hold the powerful to account, the Times adds.

The Nobel committee recognized Ressa and Muratov for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” the committee said in a statement. “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.”

Credit: Rappler

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” the committee added “These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa (right) and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.”

Berit Reiss-Andersen (above), chair of the Nobel Committee, said Ressa and Muratov were representative 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 Post reports.

In a tearful interview, Ressa described the award as “a recognition of the difficulties, but also hopefully of how we’re going to win the battle for truth, the battle for facts: We hold the line.”

Credit: Rappler

Ressa co-founded Rappler, a digital outlet for investigative journalism supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), that has exposed high-level corruption and the deaths resulting from the Duterte government’s controversial antidrug campaign.

“The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population,” the committee said. “Ms. Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

She was one of several journalists collectively named Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year and part of a group invited to New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve with the Committee to Protect Journalists, itself a nominee for the award, the Post adds.

Ressa and other Rappler executives have been charged with multiple crimes, including tax evasion, fraud and “cyber libel” in what freedom of expression advocates describe as targeted harassment. She has emerged as a global symbol of the free press under siege from illiberal politicians, the Financial Times reports.

“It’s like waking up to climb Mount Everest,” she told the FT in 2019. “It looks really hard and painful, maybe you won’t make it up, but if you don’t try, you’ll never make it up.”

Credit: CPJ

A co-founder of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993, Muratov has been editor in chief since 1995. Six of its journalists have been killed, RFE/RL reports (below), including Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anastasia Baburova (murdered alongside human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov), Natalia Estemirova, and Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed atrocities and human rights violations in Chechnya.

He said the prize was a tribute not to him but to the courage of his newspaper’s journalists.

“I’ll tell you this: This is not my merit. This is Novaya Gazeta. It is for those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech. Since they are not with us, they [the Nobel Committee] apparently decided that I should speak for them,” he told Tass news agency.

 “It’s for Igor Domnikov, it’s for Yuri Shchekochikhin, it’s for Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya, it’s for Nastya Baburova, it’s for Natasha Estemirova, for Stas Markelov. This is for them.”

In an interview with AFP in March, Muratov said the newspaper’s reporters knew their work put their lives at risk, but that unlike some other Kremlin critics they would not go into exile, VOA reports.

“This newspaper is dangerous for people’s lives,” Muratov said. “We are not going anywhere. We will live and work in Russia.”

Hours after the announcement, Russia’s justice ministry designated the owner of the Bellingcat investigative news group, along with nine journalists including one for the BBC’s Russian service, as “foreign agents”, meaning they must file detailed financial reports and face other tight operating restrictions, the Guardian reports. Bellingcat has been described as “a thorn in the Kremlin’s side” for its exposure of the regime’s misdeeds, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

Journalists are on the frontline of freedom, NED President and CEO Damon Wilson tweeted, while NED board member recommended buying Ressa’s forthcoming book (below). .  

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, also a nominee, called the award “a powerful recognition of their tireless work, and that of journalists all around the world. Their struggle is our struggle.”

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” the Nobel committee added.

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