OSLO: Journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for fighting for freedom of expression at a time when democracy is increasingly under threat.
Ressa, who is also a US citizen, is co-founder of Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism. Muratov is a co-founder of Russia’s leading independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
The pair were honored “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” said the chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen.
“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,” she said.
Ressa, 58, said the prize shows that “nothing is possible without facts,” referring to the links between democracy and freedom of expression.
“A world without facts means a world without truth and trust,” the outspoken critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told a livestreamed interview with Rappler.
She told Norwegian TV2 the honor would give her and her colleagues “tremendous energy to continue the fight.”
Muratov dedicated his half of the prize to his newspaper’s six journalists and contributors killed since 2000, who include the prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
“I can’t take credit for this. This is Novaya Gazeta’s,” he was cited by Russian news agency TASS as saying.
The newspaper on Thursday commemorated 15 years since Politkovskaya’s killing.
The Kremlin congratulated Muratov, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters: “He is talented. He is courageous.”
Ressa and Rappler, which she co-founded in 2012 and still heads, have faced multiple criminal charges and investigations after publishing stories critical of Duterte’s policies, including his bloody drug war.
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.
The chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said 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,” Reiss-Andersen added.
Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.
Time magazine named her a Person of the Year in 2018.
Muratov, 59, has defended freedom of speech in Russia for decades, under increasingly challenging conditions.
In 1993, he was a founder of Novaya Gazeta, which has a “fundamentally critical attitude toward power” the committee said. He has been its editor-in-chief since 1995.
Novaya Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder.
“Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” Reiss-Andersen said.
“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.”
Free, independent and fact-based journalism helps protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda, Reiss-Andersen said.
According to the latest rankings by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the situation for press freedom is “difficult or very serious” in 73 percent of the 180 countries it evaluated, and “good or satisfactory” in only 27 percent.
According to RSF, 24 journalists have been killed since the beginning of the year, and 350 others are imprisoned.
From the murder of Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 to the shutting of the pro-democracy Apple Daily in Hong Kong earlier this year, attempts to stifle the media abound.
Against that background, media watchdogs had been tipped as contenders for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize ahead of Friday’s announcement.
Last year, the honor went to the UN’s humanitarian agency fighting famine, the World Food Programme.
The award’s image has been hit hard over the past years as one of its previous laureates, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, became embroiled in a war.
Another, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, was accused of defending the massacre of members of the Rohingya minority.
The prize consists of a diploma, a gold medal and a cheque for 10 million kronor (980,000 euros, $1.1 million).
The Nobel season wraps up on Monday with the announcement of the Economics Prize.