Two journalists, one from the Philippines and the other from Russia, will receive the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo Friday. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it was honoring the pair for their efforts to safeguard press freedom.
The Nobel Peace Prize is the latest accolade for Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa, who has received numerous awards for her fight for press freedom in the Philippines. "There’s a part of me that is happy (to accept the Nobel Peace Prize), yes, but also angry, and hoping for a better future,” Ressa told reporters at the Manila airport Tuesday on her way to the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
Ressa founded the news website Rappler, which has had its license suspended by Philippine authorities. She is an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, and her scrutiny of the government’s often deadly war on drugs has seen her clash with authorities.
She has been arrested several times, most recently in 2020 when she was convicted of "cyber-libel" and sentenced to six years in jail. She is currently out on bail.
Further libel charges were filed against her and six other news organizations Wednesday by the Philippine government’s energy secretary, Alfonso Cusi. In total, Ressa is facing seven separate legal cases brought by the Philippine state.
Earlier this week, a Manila court gave Ressa permission to travel to Oslo, ruling she was not a flight risk.
“It feels like it’s really a small price to pay to keep doing our jobs, but we shouldn’t have to worry about this,” Ressa said. “I shouldn't have 10 arrest warrants. I shouldn't be out on bail. There are so many 'shouldn’ts,"… but, you know, what can you do? You deal with what it is. It’s like pollution in the environment, and you keep doing your job.”
Ressa is sharing the 2021 prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He is a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since 2000, six Novaya Gazeta journalists have been killed in connection with their work, including top investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. She wrote extensively on the wars in Chechnya, including abuses by Russian military forces. She was murdered in Moscow in 2006.
Novaya Gazeta was co-founded by former Soviet leader and fellow Nobel Peace laureate Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev called Muratov a "courageous” journalist.
Muratov spoke to reporters in October after learning of his win. “For us, this prize means the recognition of the memory of our late colleagues,” he said.
Putin was asked about Muratov’s Nobel prize in October.
“If he tries hiding behind the Nobel Prize, using it as a shield to violate Russian law, then he will be doing it deliberately to attract attention to himself or some other reason,” Putin said.
It is the first time since 1935 that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists. Press freedom campaigners have warmly welcomed the decision.
“If you care about being able to shape the society in which you live, if you care about being able to hold leaders accountable, if you care about solving problems like climate change or figuring our way out of this pandemic, then you need to be informed, and you can't be informed if journalists can't do their job,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an October interview with the Reuters news agency.
Both the Philippine and Russian governments deny targeting journalists or stifling a free press.
Arriving in Oslo Wednesday, Ressa told reporters the Nobel Prize would give encouragement to others.
“It’s a lift not just for journalists and international journalists, as well as Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line. It’s also for our people. We have elections coming up, right? And when facts are under threat, when you don’t have integrity of facts, you cannot have integrity of elections. So, it begins with us. We must keep getting the facts and serving the people.”