Seeking to bolster press freedoms as journalists find themselves under increasing pressure from authoritarian governments and other hostile forces, the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday awarded the Peace Prize to two journalists thousands of miles apart for their tireless efforts to hold the powerful to account.
The journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitri A. Muratov of Russia, were recognized for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
“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,” the committee said in a statement released after the announcement in Oslo.
Ressa — a Fulbright scholar, who was also named a Time magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for her crusading work against disinformation — has been a constant thorn in the side of Rodrigo Duterte, her country’s authoritarian president.
The digital media company for investigative journalism that she cofounded, Rappler, has exposed government corruption and researched the financial holdings and potential conflicts of interest of top political figures. It has also done groundbreaking work on the Duterte government’s violent antidrug campaign.
“The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population,” the committee said. “Ms. Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”
She is only the 18th woman to win the Peace Prize in its 120-year history. Speaking on Rappler’s Facebook Live platform, Ressa said she hoped the award was a “recognition of how difficult it is to be a journalist today.”
“This is for you, Rappler,” she said, her voice breaking slightly, adding that she hopes for “energy for all of us to continue the battle for facts.”
Muratov has defended freedom of speech in Russia for decades, working under increasingly difficult conditions. Within hours of news of the award breaking, the Kremlin stepped up its crackdown on critics, labeling nine journalists and activists as “foreign agents,” a designation that imposes onerous requirements on them.
One of the founders of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993, Muratov has been its editor-in-chief since 1995. Despite a continual barrage of harassment, threats, violence, and even murders, the newspaper has continued to publish.
Since its start, six of the newspaper’s journalists have been killed, the committee noted, citing Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote revealing articles about the war in Chechnya.
“Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” the committee wrote. “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.”
Many Russian dissidents had hoped and expected that the prize would go to Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader, expressing anger and disappointment that he was passed over.
Muratov said the award had come as a surprise. He told Russian media that he ignored several unidentified calls from Norway on Friday while arguing with one of his journalists; in the end, his press secretary gave him a heads-up seconds before the announcement.
He said he would donate some of the prize money to the fight against spinal muscular atrophy, a cause for which he has long advocated, and to support journalism against pressure from Russian authorities.
“The fight against the media is not a fight against the media,” Muratov said in a radio interview Friday. “It is a fight against the people.”
The Nobel committee chose from 329 candidates, one of the largest pools in the 126-year history of the prize. Those who had been considered favorites for this year included climate change activists, political dissidents, and scientists whose work helped fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its citation, the committee said that “free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.”
“Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the committee said, “it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time.”