The importance of journalists who take considerable risks to bring the truth to countries where it means standing up against authoritarian governments has been recognized by the Nobel Committee’s decision to
award the 2021 Peace Prize to Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia.
In announcing the prize, the Nobel committee called the duo “representatives of all journalists who defend this ideal”. They said Ressa had used his online news organization, Rappler, to “speak out against the abuse of power, the use of violence and growing authoritarianism in his homeland, the Philippines.”
Rappler, who grew out of a Facebook page launched in 2012 and has become one of the Philippines’ most credible independent news services, has been the target of President Rodrigo Duterte since his election in 2016. His state address of the 2017 union claimed that Rappler was foreign owned, which would be unconstitutional. He also said he was peddling “fake news”.
Government investigations followed, and in 2018 Ressa and Rappler were inundated with accusations of cybercrime, tax evasion, and as much bullying as the Duterte government could muster.
This harassment took place against the backdrop of presidential-sanctioned killings in the form of Duterte’s “war on drugs” (which the The International Criminal Court is currently investigating) which resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people, including journalists across the country. Ressa was not intimidated by the intimidation and threats. Time magazine named her one of its 2018 Personality of the Year winners alongside other journalists facing oppression around the world.
When she was first arrested in 2019 at the age of 56, the country’s most prominent journalist was forced to spend a night behind bars, a low point for civil society in the Philippines. Ressa and his Rappler colleagues continue to work under threat of imprisonment.
It remains to be seen whether the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize will protect Ressa and Rappler from further targeting, and whether the election, slated for May 2022, will provide relief from government harassment and threats.
Thorn beside Duterte
Long before Duterte was elected, Ressa was an established figure in Filipino public life. She had been the face of CNN in the Philippines as a bureau chief from 1987 to 1995, then as an investigative reporter for CNN, where she focused on terrorism in the aftermath of September 11 in South Asia. -East.
In 2004, she joined ABS-CBN, a large media company based in the Philippines, and for six years helped make it the country’s main news network (its broadcast operations were closed by Duterte in 2020). It is to Ressa’s credit that his influence is so strong in the media landscape in the Philippines, where young journalists continue to follow his advice and example.
This is not the first time that Maria Ressa has won an international grand prize. She received the Democracy Prize 2017, the 2018 Knight International Prize for Journalism and, also in 2018, the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom Award and the Committee to Protect Journalists Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award. His trials over the past few years have regularly garnered public attention and have been condemned across the world ever since. personalities and organizations.
Peace Prize Premium?
Despite this, the Duterte government continued to stifle dissent and attack lesser-publicized journalists in the more remote provinces of the Philippines, who continue to investigate corruption and violence under direct threat of violence and violence. ‘intimidation. Hopefully the Nobel Prize will pressure the 2022 presidential candidates to speak out on the issue of press freedom and make it a campaign issue. The award also means that foreign governments calibrating new relationships with the next administration have a symbol to rally around.
In 2019, I was a delegate to the British and Canadian governments World Conference on Media Freedom in London. I had the opportunity to briefly meet Maria and her lawyer Amal Clooney. There were many strong feelings and good words expressed that day by government officials as they listened to stories like those from the Philippines.
The whole event rang hollow when, towards the end of the day, news of the murder of the radio presenter Eduardo Dizon, reporter for Brigada News FM in Kidapawan City, southern Philippines. But by presenting this award to courageous journalists like Ressa and Muratov, the Nobel committee is proclaiming the value, not only of their work, but of all journalists who take risks to hold power to account.
Tom Smith is Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Academic Director of Royal Air Force College Cranwell at the University of Portsmouth, UK
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