Nobel Peace Prize shows vital role journalism plays in peace and democracy

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists for the first time demonstrates the role of journalism and freedom of expression for democracy and peace, according to reactions following yesterdays announcement that Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov had won one of the world’s most prestigious prizes.

In a statement published by the International Press Institute, IPI Executive Board Vice-Chair Virginia Perez Alonso said, “It’s highly relevant that the Nobel Committee has emphasised the role of journalism and freedom of expression for democracy and peace.”

IPI’s Norway committee chair, Ole Kristian Bejallaanes, added that the award would bring comfort to independent news outlets and individual journalists who often feel isolated.

 “This prize is an encouragement to the work of all investigative journalists,” he said. “I am happy that the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognises the importance of free speech and a free press as a contribution to a freer and more peaceful world.”

Amid a global decline in freedom of expression and increased attacks on media workers, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is the first journalistic recognition in almost 90 years. 

One of five Nobel Prizes awarded each year; it’s given to those who have “done the most or best work for fraternity between nations, for the absolution or reduction of standing armies, and for holding and promotion of peace congress.”

The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee bestowed one of the world’s most revered awards on the Russian and Philippine journalists who beat Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute.

Over the awards 120-year-history, three other journalists have won the prize, but Ressa is the first woman journalist and the 24th woman to win.

Ressa is the founder and Editor in Chief of online news portal Rappler in The Philippines. It is the country’s leading and most critical media. 

In 2020, she was convicted of cyber libel by the government under President Rodrigo Duerte. As an outspoken critic of Duerte and his regime, he has referred to her as “fully owned” by the Americans, a violator of the constitution, and claimed Rappler produces fake news and is not Filippino. 

The portal has experienced judicial and legal harassment from the authorities, including revoking its operating license.

The attacks on Ressa and Rappler, including verbal, judicial and legal, and criminal, have been widely condemned by leaders, politicians, and organisations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders.

She has won many awards for her work, and in 2019, she was included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Despite this, she is currently facing up to six years in prison.

The Nobel Committee said Ressa “ uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines…As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression.”

Muratov is a journalist, television presenter and editor in chief of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. His reporting has focussed on government corruption and human rights violations in the country as well as Chechnya. He regularly published articles critical of the Putin regime, penned by assassinated journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Six of the paper’s contributors and journalists have been murdered for their work since its inception in 1993. They are Igor Dominikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Nastya Babrova, Natalia Estermirova, and Stas Markelov.

Apart from the regular harassment, Muratov and his staff have suffered a chemical attack on their offices, as well as receiving a funeral wreath and a severed sheep’s head.

The prize committee said, “​​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.”

Doughty Street Chambers, representing Ressa in her legal struggles, called for the Filipino government to drop all remaining cases against her.

The Chambers also represent the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia in their struggle for justice following their mother’s still unsolved 2017 assassination.

Award-winning journalist, academic, and leader of the International Center for Journalists, Julie Posetti, highlighted how important it is that the award has gone to a working journalist “who has made it her mission to fight against disinformation, the abuse of platform power, and the erosion of democracy.”

Bill Browder, Head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign, congratulated both journalists on their win and noted Ressa had won the Magnitsky Award two years previously in 2019.

Malala, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and female education activist, also praised the two journalists, noting that “we must keep fighting for our right to speak freely, challenge leaders, and improve social systems.”

Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, told DW News that attacks on journalists represent attacks on the public’s right to know.

She also called the award of the prize to two journalists “hugely strategic”. She noted that Duerte was probably rather unhappy with the news as “his relentless efforts to silence the indefatigable Maria Ressa keep backfiring so utterly spectacularly, now on a global scale.”

In their statement announcing the winners, the Nobel Committee made it clear how crucial journalism is at this moment. They said that free, independent, and fact-based journalism protects against abuse of power and war propaganda and is essential to ensuring an informed public.

“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.”

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