“I am speechless” was all Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, a Philippine independent news agency, could say when she was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, an award shared with Dmitry Muratov, co-founder and editor of the Russian independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.

In its press announcement, the Committee stated that “ Ms. Ressa and Mr. Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, 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.”

Furthermore, “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protection against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.”

The pair being called “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal”, they have worked tirelessly to defend and uphold freedom of information with a firm conviction that citizens have a fundamental right to get the facts, right. A right that is so crucial in this day and age when lies, disinformation and fake news abound.

WHO ARE THEY?

Maria Ressa was commended for using freedom of expression to “expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines”.

Maria Ressa is the co-founder and CEO of the news site, Rappler which started in 2012. To date, Rappler has 4.5 million followers on Facebook and has become known for its intelligent analysis and hard-hitting, fact-based investigations.

Speaking truth to power, Rappler has been openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies, publishing extensively on the populist president’s deadly war on drugs, and taking a critical look at issues of misogyny, human rights violations and corruption. Moreover, she has personally investigated and reported on the spread of government propaganda on social media.

The first Filipino ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Ressa has been the target of attacks for her media organization’s critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and is a key leader in the global fight against disinformation. There are at least seven active cases pending in court against Rappler as of August 10, 2021. In June 2020, Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted of cyber libel. Currently, Ressa and Santos are out on bail and have filed their appeal with the Court of Appeals. Despite all the threats and harassment, Rappler continues to publish evidence- and facts-based reports daily and has created a community for action.

To date, Ressa and Rappler stand steadfast in the commitment to hold the line, to hold power and authority to account and to continue the battle of fighting for facts.

“This shows that the Nobel Peace Prize committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust,” she said. To paraphrase Ressa in a recent conversation, facts create truth and truth creates trust. Facts are needed to solve the problems we face today. Truth begets the trust needed to create the world we want to live in.

Here is Rappler’s statement on Friday’s announcement:

Rappler is honored – and astounded – by the Nobel Peace Prize Award given to our CEO Maria Ressa. It could not have come at a better time – a time when journalists and the truth are being attacked and undermined. We thank the Nobel for recognizing all journalists both in the Philippines and in the world who continue to shine the light even in the darkest and toughest hours. Thank you to everyone who has been part of the daily struggle to uphold the truth and who continues to hold the line with us. Congratulations, Maria!”

Mr. Muratov, the co-founder and editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, had for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions.

The Nobel Committee’s press announcement stated that “In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaja Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. 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. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ”troll factories” to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Novaja Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, 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.”

Mr. Muratov dedicated his prize to reporters at Novaya Gazeta who had been killed because of their work. The award came a day after the 15th anniversary of the killing of Anna Politkovskaya – one of the paper’s top investigative reporters and vocal critic of Russia’s war in Chechnya. She was shot in a lift in her block of flats.

“I can’t take all the credit. This is thanks to Novaya Gazeta and those who died while defending people’s right to freedom of speech,” he told Russian news agency Tass.

“We will leverage this prize in the interests of Russian journalism which (the authorities) are now trying to repress,” Muratov told Podyom, a journalism website. “We will try to help people who have been recognized as agents, who are now being treated like dirt and being exiled from the country.”

The winners of the prestigious prize were chosen out of 329 candidates.

Why has the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Peace Prize to two fearless journalists? This is the first time in 86 years that the Peace Prize is given to journalists. German Carl von Ossietzky received it in 1935 for exposing Germany’s secret post-war rearmament program.

Reiss-Andersen said the Nobel committee intended the award to send a message about the importance of rigorous journalism at a time when technology has made it easier than ever to spread falsehoods. “We find that people are manipulated by the press, and … fact-based, high-quality journalism is in fact more and more restricted,” she told Reuters.

“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. This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize is therefore firmly anchored in the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will.”

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on Dec. 10, the death anniversary of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.


References for additional info:

1) A conversation with award-winning Maria Ressa, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm3UvvyD2Xc&t=1s

https://www.rappler.com/world/global-affairs/interview-maria-ressa-nobel-peace-prize-laureate-2021

2) Award-winning documentary A Thousand Cuts, released in 2020 by Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona Diaz, outlines Rappler’s journey and the fight for press freedom in the country.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQpjfWV_p6E&t=1446s

3) 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release/