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Two journalists whose work has angered the authorities in Russia and the Philippines won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their respective fights to preserve free speech, which the award-giving committee described as under threat around the globe.

Journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were recognized “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

The pair “are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia,” the Nobel committee said in a news release. “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.”

Ressa co-founded digital media outlet Rappler in 2012, which pursues investigative journalism and works to expose corruption and abuse of power.

“Ressa has been the target of attacks for her media organization’s critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and a key leader in the global fight against disinformation,” the outlet said in an article posted after the prize was announced.

The committee specifically lauded the 58-year-old Ressa’s work as a critic of the government’s drug war.

“As a journalist and … Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression,” the 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. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

Rappler has been a leading target of what activists say is a state-sponsored campaign to intimidate Duterte’s opponents by hitting them with legal measures, or subjecting them to a torrent of online hate whipped up by social media “influencers,” some of whom held government posts.

Muratov, 59, was a founder of Novaja Gazeta, which the committee called “the most independent newspaper in Russia today.” He is now serving as its editor-in-chief.

“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,” the Nobel committee 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.”

Dmitry Muratov editor-in-chief of investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is interviewed in March. | AFP-JIJI
Dmitry Muratov editor-in-chief of investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is interviewed in March. | AFP-JIJI

In describing the reason for recognizing the two journalists, the committee said that “free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.”

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict,” the committee said. “Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time.”

Muratov’s selection was welcomed in Moscow.

“We can congratulate Dmitry Muratov,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented, he is brave.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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