The Nobel Peace Prize, won by such towering figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, was awarded to two journalists on Friday. Their names are Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov of Russia. The Nobel citation said they won “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” We concur. In an era in which the public trust in “the media” is in the basement, and what is true and what is real appear to be up for debate, it’s worth remembering the vital role that journalists play in a functioning democracy in holding the powerful to account. Let’s read the Nobel announcement.
Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms. Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.
Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. 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.
The Nobel announcement declares that “free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.” And lest we forget, the Nobel committee makes it clear that while Ressa and Muratov are exemplary models of their profession, “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.” Enough said.
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