Press freedom champions to receive Nobel Peace Prize

OSLO: She risks prison, he buried several colleagues: Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia, two champions of the free press, will receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for a profession under attack.

Ressa, co-founder of the Rappler news site, and Muratov, editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, won the Nobel Prize in early October for “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression”.

“A healthy society and democracy depend on reliable information,” Norway’s Nobel committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said Thursday, tackling propaganda, disinformation and fake news.

However, free and independent journalism is under threat around the world.

Asked whether the prestigious award had improved the situation in the Philippines – currently ranked 138th for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders – Ressa said on Thursday that it had not.

“It’s like having a Damocles sword hanging over your head,” said the 58-year-old journalist.

“Now in the Philippines the laws are there but…you tell the toughest stories at your own risk.”

She spoke of her compatriot and former colleague, Jess Malabanan, a journalist with the Manila Standard, who was shot in the head on Wednesday.

Malabanan, who also worked for Reuters news agency, had reported on the sensitive subject of the country’s war on drugs.

If the murder is confirmed to be linked to his profession, he would be the 16th journalist killed in the Philippines since the start of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in 2016, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Ressa, an outspoken critic of Duterte and his murderous war on drugs, is herself the subject of seven criminal prosecutions in her country.

Currently out on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber defamation case, she had to apply to four courts for permission to travel to Norway for Friday’s ceremony.

Meanwhile, 60-year-old Muratov runs one of the few independent newspapers in Russia’s largely state-controlled media landscape.

Known for its investigations into corruption and human rights abuses in Chechnya, Novaya Gazeta has seen six of its journalists killed since the 1990s, including famed investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya murdered in 2006.

“If we’re going to be foreign agents because of the Nobel Peace Prize, we won’t get angry, no,” he told reporters when asked about the risk of being labeled as such by the Kremlin.

“But actually…I don’t think we’ll get that label. We have other risks though,” Muratov added.

The ‘foreign agent’ label is intended to apply to individuals or groups who receive funding from abroad and are involved in any type of ‘political activity’.

It was, however, given to many journalists and media critics of the Kremlin, making their job extremely difficult.

Russia ranks 150th in Reporters Without Borders’ national press freedom index.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the Nobel Prize is not a “shield” protecting journalists from status.

According to a report compiled by Reporters Without Borders up to December 1, at least 1,636 journalists have been killed worldwide over the past 20 years, including 46 since the start of the year.

“Reporting information must stop being a murderous activity,” said the organisation’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire, when presenting the report this week.

The number of journalists imprisoned around the world has never been higher, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday, with 293 currently behind bars.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented to Ressa and Muratov in a ceremony – scaled down due to the pandemic – at Oslo City Hall on Friday at 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT).

The prize consists of a diploma, a gold medal and a check for 10 million Swedish crowns (975,000 euros, 1.10 million dollars) to be shared between the two winners.

Other winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics would normally receive their prizes at a separate ceremony in Stockholm on Friday.

But due to the pandemic, they received their awards in their hometown earlier this week.

A ceremony will be held in their honor on Friday in the Swedish capital, in the presence of the royal family. – AFP

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