Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, journalists from the Philippines and Russia respectively, have received congratulations from around the world on winning the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to protect freedom of expression.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged a global effort to protect a free press as he congratulated the winners.
“Let us reaffirm the right to press freedom, recognise the fundamental role of journalists and reinforce efforts at every level to support a free, independent and diverse media,” Guterres told reporters.
The United Nations human rights office said the award was “recognition of the importance of the work of journalists in the most difficult circumstances”.
“Throughout the years we’ve seen an increase in attacks in journalists during the COVID lockdown as well,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists at a UN briefing in Geneva.
“I think I’d speak for the High Commissioner [Michelle Bachelet] when I say congratulations to all journalists out there who are doing their job to keep us informed and to amplify the voices of victims everywhere,” she added.
Wow! Nobel Peace Prize awarded to journalists Maria Ressa in the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov in Russia. Outstanding choices. Maria Ressa was a Magnitsky Prize recipient and Dmirty Muratov published Magnitsky’s prison diaries shortly after he was killed https://t.co/xDZ3240aBj
— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) October 8, 2021
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 rumours, by hate speech.”
“This prize is a great signal a very powerful message to defend journalism everywhere.”
The award will give both journalists greater international visibility and may inspire a new generation of journalists, said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“We normally expect that greater visibility actually means greater protection for the rights and the safety of the individuals concerned,” he told Reuters news agency.
The Kremlin also congratulated Muratov, describing him as “talented” and “courageous”.
“We congratulate him,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “He is talented. He is courageous.”
Muratov co-founded the Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, in 1993 and has been its editor-in-chief for 24 years. It is today one of the very few independent media outlets in Russia and has seen six of its journalists murdered during that time.
After the Nobel win, Muratov was cited by Russian news agency TASS as saying: “I can’t take credit for this. This is Novaya Gazeta’s. It is that of those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech.”
Shocked and emotional
Ressa, who founded investigative journalism website Rappler, has focused much of her work on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial and violent war on drugs.
“I’m a little shocked. It’s really emotional,” she said on Friday. “But I am happy on behalf of my team and would like to thank the Nobel Committee for recognising what we are going through.”
Speaking during a webcast following the announcement, Ressa said that journalists had “lost our gatekeeping powers to technology platforms” and called for nations to come together to stop the rise of misinformation.
She also said that despite her news website being under “the possibility of shutdown on a daily basis” she continues striving for fact-finding journalism.
“If you keep the North Star ahead of you, you protect the facts, you hold power to account. You exercise the rights that is in the Philippine Constitution. That’s what we did, and that’s what we’ll keep doing,” she said.
The former CNN correspondent is on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber-libel case, for which she faces up to six years in prison. Two other cyber-libel cases were dismissed earlier this year.
The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (more than $1.14m).
The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.