Nobel Peace Prize 2021: Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov Win the Award

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was shared by two crusading journalists from the Philippines and Russia. Maria Ressa, co-founder of the digital news site Rappler, and Dmitry Muratov, veteran editor of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian independent newspaper, were honored by the Nobel Committee for battling for freedom of expression and holding power accountable.

Ressa and Rappler were singled out by the committee for exposing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “murderous anti-drug campaign,” which has claimed thousands of lives. It also applauded her for bringing attention to how politicians use social media to propagate misleading information and distort public debate.

Muratov was also recognized by the committee for his decades of effort defending freedom of expression in Russia “under increasingly difficult conditions.” Muratov has overseen the newspaper’s investigations and critical reporting on Kremlin politics, corruption, conflict, and human rights. He was a founding member of the journalist collective that started Novaya Gazeta in 1993.

The prosecution of gay individuals in Chechnya, an inquiry into the Kremlin’s possible role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over east Ukraine in 2014, and allegations of government efforts to rig last month’s Russian parliamentary elections are just a few of the recent stories.

Six of the newspaper’s reporters have been slain as a result of their work, including star journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.

The Nobel Committee stated that “free, independent, and fact-based journalism works to defend against misuse of power, deception, and war propaganda.”

The Nobel Peace Prize arrives at a difficult time for media. In recent years, authoritarian administrations have increasingly targeted journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 21 journalists would be assassinated in retribution for their work in 2020. That was nearly double the previous year’s total.

Meanwhile, social media has become a channel for a plethora of misinformation aimed at undermining the credibility of fact-checking news outlets.

“I hope that today’s Nobel Peace Prize 2021 award will serve as a reminder to authorities in the Philippines, Russia, and around the world of the importance of respecting journalists and journalism,” said Ressa, who is facing multiple criminal charges in the Philippines and is unable to leave the country. The legal cases against her have been criticised by human rights organizations. “Independent journalism’s role in keeping power accountable has never been more critical.”

The 59-year-old Muratov dedicated the honor to his deceased colleagues while speaking to a crowd of media and well-wishers outside Novaya Gazeta’s Moscow office.

“For us, this award is first and foremost a tribute to the memories of our departed colleagues,” Muratov added. He also hailed a new generation of young journalists who have taken their place, and stated that the newspaper planned to split the prize money between social projects and support for tiny independent journalism companies who are facing increased government pressure.

Russian independent media have battled a web of restrictive government “foreign agent” rules, which are largely perceived as an attempt to muzzle independent voices. While Novaya Gazeta has avoided the label of “foreign agent” thus far, its journalists acknowledge that the newspaper’s future in the current political context is far from certain. “In our nation, there are only a few independent media remaining,” Novaya Gazeta reporter Pavel Kanygin told NPR. “We’re fighting for our lives, and perhaps this trophy will provide some protection from our foes.”

Even Muratov said that he wasn’t sure if accepting the Nobel Prize money would be legal.

“I inquired of a government official who congratulated me if receiving the Nobel meant we’d be classified as foreign agents. He was unable to inform me “Muratov went on to say that the publication has no intention of declining the award.

Ressa, 58, was born in the Philippines but traveled to New Jersey to pursue a degree in drama at Princeton University. Her classmates remembered her as “a bundle of enthusiasm” who predicted tremendous things for her future.

Leslie Tucker, a longtime college acquaintance, noted, “She was always the clever child, she worked very hard.” “I’ve always known she was more than capable, but she’s reticent and [doesn’t like] being the focus of attention,” says the author.

This is still true today. Ressa has won a plethora of press freedom awards in recent years, but she has often been uncomfortable with the attention and has tried to deflect it by complimenting others.

She returned to the Philippines as a Fulbright scholar after graduating from college in 1986 and went into journalism, overseeing CNN’s Manila and Jakarta bureaus for nearly two decades. Ressa co-founded Rappler in 2012 as a scrappy digital news site, quickly growing an audience on social media, particularly Facebook.

Ressa and the site came under relentless, coordinated social media attacks — including death threats — after Rappler took aim at the government’s violent anti-drug campaign. A Thousand Cuts, a documentary, tells the narrative of this incident.

“While technology aided Rappler’s rapid rise,” Ressa stated in a commencement speech at Princeton in 2020, “we were also among the first casualties when social media was weaponized in 2016.”

Ressa, who used to be a devotee of Facebook, was one of the first and most outspoken critics of its detrimental effect on social dialogue.

She has stated that “Facebook shattered democracy in many nations around the world, including mine.”

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