The Norwegian Nobel Committee Friday awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
At a ceremony in Oslo, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen announced the winners, saying, “Ms. Ressa and Mr. Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and in Russia."
In a statement, the committee said Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, co-founder and executive editor of digital media company Rappler, is being recognized for her fearless use of freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country.
"I'm a little shocked. It's really emotional," Ressa told reporters shortly after the announcement.
Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents, and manipulate public discourse.
In an interview with VOA earlier this year, Ressa detailed multiple travel bans and government cases against her.
“All told, all these charges carry a maximum penalty cumulatively...I think it's like 103 years,” she said.
But Ressa, as noted by the Nobel committee, has remained tireless in her work, focusing on disinformation in social media and reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign.
“I think what the government doesn't know is that the abuses of power that we live through only fuel my determination to hold on to my rights,” Ressa told VOA.
“I'm not voluntarily giving up my rights, and my task as a journalist, like yours, is to hold power to account.”
The committee honored Russian journalist Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov for his decades-long defense of freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he co-founded the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and has been its editor in chief since 1995. It is considered the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power.
But since its beginnings, six of Muratov’s colleagues have been killed.
“I am absolutely convinced that this award is not mine. I am the incorrect beneficiary,” Muratov told VOA in a phone call on Friday.
“This prize belongs to Yuri Shchekochikhin, Igor Domnikov, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natalya Estemirov. ... It’s their award. Simple as that,” he said, listing his colleagues who have been killed.
WATCH: Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Talks With VOA's Danila Galperovich
The committee said the newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society. It has published critical articles on subjects including corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.
The Kremlin congratulated Muratov on his win Friday in a statement that many critics called ironic given Moscow’s targeting of his colleagues and journalists in general.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 17 journalists were killed in the Philippines and 23 in Russia over the last decade.
CPJ congratulated both recipients and applauded the Nobel committee for spotlighting the importance of press freedom.
“There are a lot of challenges we face in the world today - we're in the middle of a pandemic, we're grappling with climate change. So, the fact that they singled out journalism and press freedom as a key concern, I think really sends a powerful message,” Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ, told VOA.
“We can’t solve any of these problems if we're not informed, if we don't have information, and if we don't engage with the world – and journalists are the conduit through which people inform themselves.”
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres also congratulated both journalists in a statement Friday, stressing the importance of a free press worldwide.
“No society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoing, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power,” he said.
“Yet anti-media rhetoric — and attacks against media workers — continue to rise,” he added, noting “growing violence and harassment” against journalists across the globe.
The two journalists will share a $1.1 million cash prize.
The Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, and literature have also been awarded this week. The prize for economics will be awarded Monday.
The awards will all be formally presented in December. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the academy announced this year’s ceremony will be a mixture of digital and physical events. Laureates will receive their Nobel Prize medals and diplomas in their home countries.
Jeff Custer, Tommy Walker and Danila Galperovich contributed to this report. Some information came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.