Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to 2 Journalists, Highlighting Fight for Press Freedom
In an era of increasing authoritarianism and swirling misinformation, Maria Ressa and Dmitri A. Muratov, who lead independent news outlets in the Philippines and Russia, were honored for their work to hold leaders to account.
Oct. 8, 2021Updated 5:58 p.m. ET
In an era of increasing authoritarianism and swirling misinformation, Maria Ressa and Dmitri A. Muratov, who lead independent news outlets in the Philippines and Russia, were honored for their work to hold leaders to account.
Here’s what you need to know:
Awarding the Nobel to journalists recognizes the growing repression of media.
Nobel laureate from Russia says he would have chosen a different Russian.
Maria Ressa says of her work as a journalist: ‘Trust is what holds us together.’
Nobel announcement draws mixed reactions from Russia, with frustration from Navalny supporters.
Maria Ressa is only the 18th woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Even as it praises the Russian prize winner, the Kremlin steps up its assault on independent news.
Rappler has stood out in a landscape of growing media repression in Asia.
Anti-Nobel sentiment has spawned alternative awards over the years.
Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Journalists Who Bolster Free Press
The journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitri A. Muratov of Russia, were recognized for their work in promoting freedom of expression in their home countries.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitri Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms. Ressa and Mr. Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and in Russia.
The journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitri A. Muratov of Russia, were recognized for their work in promoting freedom of expression in their home countries.CreditCredit…Heiko Junge /NTB, via Reuters
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.
Ms. 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 co-founded, 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, Ms. 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.”
Mr. 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 the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993, Mr. 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 Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader, expressing anger and disappointment that he was passed over.
Mr. Muratov said the award had come as a surprise — and that he, too, would have given it to Mr. Navalny. He told Russian media that he had 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 the Russian authorities.
“The fight against the media is not a fight against the media,” Mr. Muratov said in a radio interview on Friday. “It is a fight against the people.”
This year was only the third time in the 120-year history of the prize that journalists were honored for contributions to the cause of peace. Ernesto Moneta, a newspaper editor and leader of the Italian peace movement, won in 1907. And Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist, pacifist and opponent of Nazism, who was imprisoned by Hitler, won the 1935 prize.
The Nobel committee chose from 329 candidates, one of the largest pools ever considered. Those who had been regarded as favorites 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.”
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitri Muratov, comes at a time of growing assaults on a free press across the world, as authoritarian governments extend their reach and the slogan of “fake news” is used to suppress dissenting views.
Ms. Ressa has faced multiple criminal charges for the way her news website Rappler has challenged the rule of President Rodrigo Duterte. Both she and Mr. Muratov, whose Novaya Gazeta newspaper has been a persistent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, work under governments that use a range of methods — from repressive legislation to arrests — to muzzle criticism.
Last year, both UNESCO and the Council of Europe issued reports deploring the erosion of media freedom. They noted growing police attacks on journalists covering protests, including intimidation and beatings, and the passing of so-called “fake news” laws in countries from Hungary to Russia that can be used to repress legitimate journalism.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 274 journalists were imprisoned in 2020, the highest rate since 1992, and said “the number of journalists singled out for murder in reprisal for their work more than doubled in 2020.”
The V-Dem Institute, a Swedish organization that tracks democratic indicators, said in their 2020 report that “media censorship and the repression of civil society” were “typically the first move in a gradual process” of moving toward autocracy and so “an early warning signal for what might yet be to come.”
It reported that, with respect to freedom of the media, “32 countries are declining substantially, compared to only 19 just three years ago.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has noted that authoritarian governments have repeatedly taken cover in “anti-press rhetoric from the United States.”
Leaders including Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and Hungarian President Viktor Orban have used former President Trump’s term “fake news” as a means to discredit the press in general.
The existence online of a growing volume of disinformation becomes a means to undermine real and challenging journalism that adheres to the facts, especially for the growing number of governments across the world that brook no criticism.
Both the Council of Europe and the Committee to Protect Journalists have expressed concern over the way the Covid-19 pandemic has led to violations of journalists’ freedom.
“Despite the importance of media freedom, which arguably has never been more important than during this public health crisis, the pandemic has led to an array of restrictions on reporting,” Scott Griffen, the deputy director of the International Press Institute, said earlier this year.
Among the repressive methods being used to intimidate the press are censorship, restrictive legislation, harassment and, as in Egypt’s case, sweeping curtailment of any social media accounts or websites that are deemed to constitute national security threats.
Of her client, Ms. Ressa, Amal Clooney, a British international human rights lawyer, said: “I am grateful to the Nobel Committee for shining a light on her incredible courage.” She added that she hopes “this prize helps to protect the press around the world.”
Announcing the award, the Nobel committee chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said: “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, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations.”
Among the prominent journalists murdered in recent years have been Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta, the Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, and, this year, Peter R. de Vries in the Netherlands. All had made it their business to reveal uncomfortable truths.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Dmitri A. Muratov, a Russian newspaper editor, along with a fellow journalist, Maria Ressa of the Philippines, for their work seeking to bolster press freedoms.CreditCredit…Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press
Dmitri A. Muratov, the Russian newspaper editor awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, said he would have given the honor to a different Russian: Aleksei A. Navalny.
Mr. Navalny, the opposition leader jailed since January, had been seen as a favorite to win the prize. On Friday, some of Mr. Navalny’s supporters reacted with anger to the Nobel announcement, because they see Mr. Muratov as a figure open to compromise with the Kremlin rather than one who remains in principled opposition.
“If I had been on the Nobel Peace Prize committee, I would have voted for the person whom the bookmakers bet on,” Mr. Muratov said in a news conference outside his newspaper’s Moscow headquarters. “I mean Aleksei Navalny.”
In an earlier interview, Mr. Muratov cited Mr. Navalny’s courage.
The prize announcement came amid a monthslong crackdown on the independent news media in Russia. Popular outlets and even individual journalists have been declared “foreign agents” by the government for allegedly receiving foreign financing, forcing them to include onerous disclaimers alongside all of their content, even on social media.
Mr. Muratov noted that accepting the Nobel‘s prize money could, in theory, open him up to being declared a foreign agent. It was an indication of how far the Kremlin’s campaign against the independent news media has gone that Mr. Muratov’s comment about that scenario did not come across as only a joke.
“I posed this question today to the government officials who decided to congratulate me,” Mr. Muratov said. “Will we be declared foreign agents by receiving the Nobel Prize? I didn’t get a straight answer.”
Mr. Muratov said his prize was posthumous recognition of the six journalists who had worked with Novaya Gazeta and been killed; he repeated all of their names twice. The most famous was Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist who was murdered in Moscow on Oct. 7, 2006. As Mr. Muratov spoke, he urged the scrum of reporters listening to him to avoid trampling on the garden that the staff had planted in front of the newspaper’s offices in her memory.
“They don’t give these Nobel Prizes posthumously,” he said. “I think they came up with this as a way for Anya to get the prize, through other, old hands.”
‘Personal Sacrifices Are Worth It,’ Says Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Maria Ressa, one of two journalists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting free press, said the Philippine government had filed 10 arrest warrants against her and banned her from traveling.
I am honored that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has honored me and my fellow journalist Dmitri Muratov in this way. This relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against me and my fellow journalists in the Philippines is a stark example of a global trend that journalists and freedom of the press facing increasingly adverse conditions. The Philippine government filed 10 arrest warrants against me in the last year. The government has prevented my travel four times, including to — when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and I needed to go to see my aging parents. I think this just shows you that the battle is worth it. The personal sacrifices are worth it.
Maria Ressa, one of two journalists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting free press, said the Philippine government had filed 10 arrest warrants against her and banned her from traveling.CreditCredit…Aaron Favila/Associated Press
Maria Ressa said on Friday that her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was a recognition of the dangers of being a journalist at a time when freedom of the press was under attack.
In an interview, Ms. Ressa said she was “breathless, stunned and happy” upon hearing about the honor, which she shared with the Russian journalist Dmitri A. Muratov. She said she was in the middle of a live panel discussion about a PBS documentary — which follows her struggles in the war that President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has waged on the press — when she got a call telling her that she had been awarded the prize.
“I didn’t know how to react, and then, wow,” Ms. Ressa said. “The folks clapped and asked me for a reaction and it hit me. It’s so much that we’ve gone through in the last five and a half years and then this. These highs and lows are making me crazy.”
Ms. Ressa, a co-founder of the independent news site Rappler, said that the Philippine government had filed 10 arrest warrants against her, with seven legal cases still pending. The authorities have essentially banned her from traveling, denying her last four requests to go overseas.
“I’ve just seen my rights being taken away, very slowly,” she said. “What we’re seeing is a thousand cuts to the body politic, to our democracy.”
In selecting two journalists for the Peace Prize, Ms. Ressa said, the Nobel committee showed the world “how dangerous it is to be a journalist today. We’ve never been under attack as much as we have been in the last few years.”
Speaking earlier on her publication’s Facebook Live platform, Ms. Ressa referred to Mr. Duterte’s sweeping crackdown on drugs, which Rappler has covered extensively, uncovering evidence of extrajudicial killings.
She called it a “moment that is so existential, the defense of our democracy in the Philippines, the defense of our rights, human rights, the fact that we have no idea exactly how many people have been killed in a brutal drug war.”
In the drug campaign, she said, police had issued conflicting figures on the numbers of people killed — while rights groups have said that the true toll could reach 30,000.
“This hall of mirrors has to change at a time when accountability does count,” she said. “And I think that what we have to do as journalists is to just hold the line.”
“When you don’t have facts, you don’t have truth,” she added. “You don’t have trust. Trust is what holds us together to be able to solve the complex problems our world is facing today.”
In the hours after Dmitri A. Muratov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, reactions in Russia were mixed, exposing a deep divide among the Kremlin’s embattled critics on how to best push back against an increasingly authoritarian state.
Many Russians rejoiced at Mr. Muratov’s award and celebrated the success of his newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, which has produced hard-hitting investigations despite tremendous pressure since it was founded almost three decades ago. But supporters of the jailed opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who was poisoned last year in an operation that Western officials say was organized by the Russian security services, and subsequently jailed, were particularly disappointed.
Mr. Muratov, himself, said on Friday that if it were up to him, Mr. Navalny would have won the prize, citing his courage.
While Mr. Muratov has grown increasingly disillusioned with politics in Russia, he has sought to find ways to engage with the Kremlin. That was evident in the reaction of Mr. Putin’s chief spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, who congratulated him on the award.
That more compromising approach has angered hard-line dissidents like Mr. Navalny, who from his prison cell rejects the prospect of cooperation with the authorities. Last month Mr. Navalny sought to organize a “smart voting” platform in Russia’s September parliamentary elections, but it was declared “extremist” by the Kremlin, which forced Google and Apple to remove apps related to the app store.
“Instead of pretentious and hypocritical speeches about ‘freedom,’ they could protect a person who survived the assassination attempt and is now taken hostage by the murderers,” wrote Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager for Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Mr. Muratov is a member of the liberal Yabloko party, which did not support the “smart voting” initiative. That was in part because the app recommended that all opposition forces select one candidate most likely to beat Mr. Putin’s United Russia party. The recommended candidates included many from the Communist Party, an anathema to Mr. Muratov who believed it harkened back to the time of dictator Joseph Stalin.
Mr. Muratov has also mounted a defense of Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, who oversaw the controversial online voting platform in the September elections. Many anti-government groups were concerned that the online voting system enabled what they alleged was election fraud that favored Mr. Putin’s party.
Some observers argued that the choice of Novaya Gazeta, which is one of the last independent media outlets in Russia not to be named a “foreign agent,” sent the wrong message at the wrong time.
“The decision to reward Muratov, not Navalny, is an attempt to keep the maximum distance from the current political process,” the political analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov wrote on Facebook. “We, they say, do not interfere in politics, we only support the principle of freedom of speech,” he added, referring to the Nobel committee. “This is probably correct.”
Mr. Muratov said the prize, which is not awarded posthumously, was in honor of six colleagues on Novaya Gazeta who died doing their jobs.
“This is the prize of my dead colleagues,” he said, “those who gave their lives for people who fought against dictatorship, who stood up for freedom of speech.”
In receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, the Philippine journalist Maria Ressa became only the 18th woman to be selected for the award in its 120-year history.
With half the world made up of women, the obvious question arises: Why have so few been granted the committee’s most prestigious prize and, more broadly, been generally underrepresented across the Nobel Prizes?
Addressing the criticism, the Nobel committee in 2017 acknowledged its poor track record.
“We are disappointed looking at the larger perspective that more women have not been awarded,” said Goran Hansson, vice chair of the board of directors of the Nobel Foundation.
“Part of it is that we go back in time to identify discoveries,” he said. “We have to wait until they have been verified and validated before we can award the prize. There was an even larger bias against women then. There were far fewer women scientists if you go back 20 or 30 years.”
But he acknowledged other problems, including the way people are considered for prizes. Starting in 2018, he said, the committee would take steps to address the imbalance.
“I hope that in five years or 10 years, we will see a very different situation,” he said.
A total of 109 individuals have received the Nobel Peace Prize, which has also been awarded to organizations. The first woman to receive the prize was Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian writer who was a leading figure in a nascent pacifist movement in Europe. She was recognized in 1905, two years after Marie Curie became the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, in physics.
It would be 26 years before another woman was selected for the award: the American Jane Addams, regarded as the founder of modern social work and an advocate for the concerns of children and mothers. She shared the 1931 prize with Nicholas Murray Butler, then the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Other women to receive the honor include Mother Teresa in 1979; the legal reformer Shirin Ebadi of Iran in 2003; the Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004; and in 2014 the education activist Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the award.
In 2011, three women shared the award: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist from Liberia; and Tawakkol Karman, a journalist from Yemen who became the face of the “Arab Spring” uprising in her country.
Here are the other women laureates, listed chronologically:
1946 — Emily Greene Balch, American economist, sociologist, pacifist and educator.
1982 — Alva Myrdal, Swedish diplomat and disarmament advocate.
1991 — Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy activist in Myanmar.
1992 — Rigoberta Menchu Tum, leading advocate of Mayan rights and culture.
1997 — Jody Williams, American disarmament activist who campaigned to abolish land mines.
2018 — Nadia Murad, Yazidi activist from northern Iraq who escaped enslavement by the Islamic State and led campaign against sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.
An earlier version of this item incorrectly described the history of the Nobel Prize. It is 120 years old, not 126.
Hours after a Russian newspaper editor received the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to “safeguard freedom of expression,” the Russian government made another move to muzzle that expression.
Nine activists and journalists, including prominent Russian-language correspondents for the B.B.C. and the American-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, were declared “foreign agents” by Russia’s Justice Ministry. They now have to submit to onerous disclosure requirements, including having to attach a lengthy disclaimer to every social media post.
It was the latest evidence that the Nobel for Dmitri A. Muratov came amid the most intense campaign of repression against the independent news media in Russia’s post-Soviet history.
“The Parliament does not represent all the people, it does not represent the minority with an alternative point of view,” Mr. Muratov said outside his newspaper’s office in Moscow on Friday. “The media represents them, and this is exactly why, I believe, these attacks on the Russian press are taking place.”
Leading Russian-language news outlets such as Meduza, TV Rain and Proekt have been declared “foreign agents” or banned outright in recent months, and investigative journalists have been driven into exile.
Mr. Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta is the most prominent independent outlet remaining that has not been declared a foreign agent. Unlike some other independent journalists, Mr. Muratov has sought to find ways to engage with the Kremlin, and he took part in a meeting of Russian editors in chief with Mr. Putin earlier this year.
But he has grown increasingly pessimistic about the future of political freedoms in Russia. Increasingly, he has said, it is the powerful Federal Security Service — the main successor agency to the K.G.B. — that is charged with managing domestic politics, limiting the space for activism or independent journalism ever more.
In recent months, the Kremlin has been able to carry out its crackdown on dissent without provoking a widespread public backlash. That has emboldened the authorities, he says.
“The authorities have suddenly realized that most people have absolutely no need for freedom,” Mr. Muratov told the Russian news website Znak.com in August.
Some Russian analysts and journalists have speculated that it would be only a matter of time until Novaya Gazeta were outlawed or forced out of business. With its extensive coverage of sensitive matters like rights abuses in the Russian republic of Chechnya, environmental disasters caused by leading Russian companies and torture in prisons, the newspaper has earned many enemies.
The recognition by the Nobel committee could give the newspaper a fresh lease on life, its supporters hope.
On Friday, even Margarita Simonyan, the editor of the pro-Kremlin television channel RT, congratulated Mr. Muratov, noting he worked to help ill children. Mikhail V. Mishustin, the Russian prime minister, through his spokesman lauded Mr. Muratov for “his high professionalism, his loyalty to his convictions, and, importantly, his human qualities.”
“We can congratulate Dmitri Muratov,” President Vladimir V. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters. “He consistently works according to his ideals. He is committed to his ideals, he is talented, he is brave and of course this is a high-level recognition.”
The question now is whether the award for Mr. Muratov — the first Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate in post-Soviet times — helps protect what remains of independent journalism in Russia. Some critics were quick to allege on Twitter that the award could serve the Kremlin by allowing Mr. Putin to point to Novaya Gazeta as proof that freedom of expression in Russia still exists.
“We will try to help those people who are now being declared agents, who are being repressed, and who are being exiled from the country,” Mr. Muratov told a Russian news website, Podyom.
In a year marked by climate change-driven disasters, political turmoil and the enduring devastation wrought by the coronavirus, the Norwegian Nobel Committee chose this year’s winners from a diverse array of 329 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The candidates — whose names are not publicly revealed, but represented the third highest number of submissions in history — ranged from climate activists to political dissidents. Organizations including Reporters Without Borders and movements like Black Lives Matter were also in the running.
The pool of candidates had been chosen from the thousands of nominations submitted to the committee by academics, scientists, former winners and politicians from around the world.
Every year, speculation is rife over who will emerge from the intensely secretive voting process.
Scientists whose work has helped combat climate change and improve the environment were recognized in Nobel Prizes handed out earlier this week. Two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Wednesday for work that “laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it.” Two chemists were honored for findings that have helped lessen the impact of chemistry on the environment.
Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old climate activist from Sweden, was widely thought to be in the running for the peace award. She has been a top contender for the prize since 2019, when Time magazine recognized her as its “Person of the Year.”
Among the hundreds of submissions, 95 were organizations. Last year, the $1 million cash prize went to the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, for its efforts to combat a surge in global hunger amid the pandemic.
With the world still struggling to emerge from a pandemic that has killed more than 4.6 million people, observers speculated that the Nobel committee might reward work being done to lessen the suffering. At the top of many shortlists was the U.N. World Health Organization, which has sought to act as the voice of authority amid a cacophony of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus.
Scientists whose work over decades led to the rapid development of vaccines that have changed the course of the pandemic, to the surprise of many, were passed over when awards for Medicine and Chemistry were announced earlier in the week. But the global vaccine initiative, Covax, was a favorite of some odds makers who thought it might be selected for its ambitious, though struggling, efforts to promote equal access to the lifesaving vaccines.
The committee did not wade into some of the most geopoliticaly charged waters by selecting a prominent political dissident. Among those believed to be in the running were Svetlana Tikhanovskaya of Belarus and Aleksei A. Navalny, whose strident opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia galvanized some of the nation’s largest protests to his rule.
But in choosing to award the work of two journalists who persist at great personal risk, they sought to elevate the struggle of reporters around the world working in increasingly repressive environments.
Rappler’s newsroom buzzed with activity on Friday, the last day for candidates to file papers for an election in the Philippines next year, and young reporters were chatting about the day’s news over Slack.
Then a reporter who was watching the Nobel Peace Prize announcement online told the team that Maria Ressa, one of their outlet’s founders, had won.
“We are blown away,” said Pia Ranada, a political journalist who has been barred from official presidential events because of her aggressive coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
Speaking in a phone interview, Ms. Ranada said, “I’m just full of gratitude for this recognition. We feel that Maria’s win is a win for our entire news organization and, in general, also for the Philippine press, especially those who’ve been trudging on and shining the light, despite the kind of governance we have now, where journalists are harassed for their work.”
On its website, Rappler said it was “honored and astounded” by the award.
“It could not have come at a better time — a time when journalists and the truth are being attacked and undermined,” the news organization said. “We thank the Nobel for recognizing all journalists both in the Philippines and in the world who continue to shine the light even in the darkest and toughest hours.”
Rappler, a scrappy investigative and entertainment website that Ms. Ressa co-founded in 2012, has been a focus of Mr. Duterte’s campaign against the news media in the Philippines. In 2018, the news site’s license was revoked, and Ms. Ressa has been charged with defamation, tax evasion and the violation of complex security laws.
In July 2018, a court sided with Rappler, saying the revocation of the license was wrong, allowing the site to continue to publish.
Ms. Ressa created Rappler with three other high-powered women journalists — Lilibeth Frondoso, Glenda Gloria and Chay Hofilena — who cut their teeth as reporters during the “people power” revolt that brought down President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the mid-1980s.
They have been arrested and faced death threats. A black funeral wreath was once delivered to the door of Ms. Gloria’s family home. Ms. Frondoso, Rappler’s head of multimedia, was once thrown in prison with her newborn child.
“We have government officials who publicly denounce the journalism we do,” Ms. Ranada said, “so it’s really a huge moment for all of us here.”
Across Asia, authoritarian governments and strongmen leaders are imprisoning reporters, imposing stifling legal requirements on news outlets and running independent websites out of business, exacerbating fears among journalists about the state of press freedom in the region.
Rappler, the Philippine media organization co-founded by Maria Ressa, stood out as a beacon of hope.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines was fond of accusing reporters of deceit and “fake news,” even warning that they are “not exempted from assassination.” His government removed the country’s largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, where Ms. Ressa once worked, from the air last year.
Yet Rappler’s dogged coverage of the Duterte administration has continued. In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said Ms. Ressa’s win was “a victory for press freedom advocates across the Philippines, which remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.”
“We hope that Ressa’s win drives international attention to the plight of the Philippines’ local media workers, and sends a signal that a free, unstifled and critical press is necessary for a healthy democracy,” the group said.
Across Asia, independent news outlets have faced growing pressures, sometimes being forced to close.
This week, Singapore passed a contentious law barring foreign influence over politics, which gives the government the power to demand that social media platforms disclose user data or remove posts that are deemed to be antigovernment. Last month, the government suspended the license of The Online Citizen, an independent website offering social and political commentary, saying it had failed to comply with rules requiring it to declare its funding sources.
In Myanmar, the military government that seized power this year has arrested at least 98 journalists, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog. Five have been convicted of violating a law that makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Next Digital, a media company that was long the leading pro-democracy voice in Hong Kong, said last month that it would close after a crackdown by Beijing. That was the latest in a series of blows to Hong Kong’s once freewheeling press, which has been stifled by the national security law that the mainland Chinese government imposed on the former British colony more than a year ago.
In India, watchdog groups say that press freedom has eroded under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has used legal threats and investigations to cow media outlets. This year, the government enacted rules granting it broad power to take down digital content, a move that many said was aimed at upstart independent news sites that offered some of the most critical coverage of Mr. Modi’s government.
The Nobel Peace Prize “is a message to governments everywhere that genuine journalism cannot be suppressed,” said Sidharth Bhatia, a founding editor of The Wire, a news site in India that has faced numerous defamation lawsuits from members of Mr. Modi’s party. “It comes as a boost to journalists everywhere, especially to those in small, independent websites who face pressures from governments and continue to ask questions to power in the pursuit of truth.”
During the tenure of President Vladimir V. Putin, six reporters for Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper that Dmitri A. Muratov co-founded in 1993, have been killed for their work. Most prominent was Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist who was shot and killed on Oct. 7, 2006.
Ms. Politkovskaya, a vocal critic of Mr. Putin and his policies in the Chechen war, was shot in the elevator to her apartment building in Moscow. While a court convicted several men for carrying out the assassination, the authorities left unanswered the question of who organized it. Mr. Putin, speaking soon after her death, denied any role by saying Ms. Politkovskaya’s death had created a bigger problem for Russia because of international criticism than her life and work as an investigative journalist.
Founded in 1993, Novaya Gazeta has become the highest-profile independent newspaper in Russia for social and political affairs. The newspaper has three main owners: the last Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who used proceeds from his Nobel Peace Prize to finance the venture; Aleksandr Y. Lebedev, a former KGB agent turned banker and critic of the rise of a new police state; and the newspaper staff, which owns shares.
In one of the early murders, the investigative reporter and member of Parliament Yuri Shchekochikhin died of a mysterious and painful illness that caused the epidermis, or upper layer of skin, to slough off, in a rare symptom caused by some drug allergies but which Novaya Gazeta newspaper concluded in its own investigation was poisoning.
Mr. Shchekochikhin became ill days before he planned to travel to the United States to share information with American law enforcement about suspected corruption and money laundering at a furniture importing business, the Three Whales, linked to the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the K.G.B., touching a nerve on an important trend of the security services moving into business. His autopsy results remain classified.
In 2009, Russian nationalists shot to death another of the newspaper’s journalists, Anastasia Boburova, on a sidewalk in the capital together with a human rights lawyer.
In another high-profile killing in 2009, the human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped in the Chechen capital of Grozny and subsequently killed. Ms. Estemirova cooperated with Novaya Gazeta in cataloging killings, torture and abductions in Chechnya and linked them to the region’s leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov. Ms. Estemirova continued this work even after the death of Ms. Politkovskaya in 2006, with whom she had begun her collaboration with the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
In recent years, the newspaper’s reporters have broken stories investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine.
Their leading reporter on the war, Pavel Kanygin, was kidnapped and beaten by separatists, but nonetheless returned for on-the-ground reporting for the newspaper’s investigation into the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine in 2014.
Since it went live in January 2012, Rappler, the website co-founded by Maria Ressa and three other female journalists, has become one of the Philippines’ most popular and influential media platforms, mixing reporting with calls for social activism. Rappler’s reporters, most of whom are in their 20s, have been especially critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, investigating his extrajudicial killing campaign against people suspected of dealing or using drugs, documenting the spread of government disinformation on Facebook and reporting on malfeasance among his top advisers.
As a result, the site has incurred Duterte’s wrath and been targeted by his loyalists; Ms. Ressa has been forced to increase her personal security and been in and out of court to answer a litany of charges — from libel to tax evasion — that she describes as politically motivated.
In 2020, after years of government threats and accusations, Ms. Ressa and a former Rappler colleague were convicted of cyber libel by a court in Manila. Each could face up to six years in prison, and each was fined $8,000; Ms. Ressa has appealed the ruling.
At the time, she said her conviction should serve as a warning. “We’re redefining what the new world is going to look like, what journalism is going to become,” she said. “Are we going to lose freedom of the press?”
While former President Donald J. Trump called American reporters “the enemy of the people,” Mr. Duterte goes a step further, calling them “sons of bitches” who are “not exempt from assassination.” He has publicly targeted Rappler, calling it a “fake news outlet” sponsored by the C.I.A.
Ms. Ressa, 58, is a dual citizen of the Philippines and the United States, where she spent part of her childhood in Toms River, N.J. She attended Princeton and returned to the Philippines in 1986 on a Fulbright fellowship, as the country was transitioning away from authoritarianism and adopting liberal, democratic ideas.
CNN was looking for a fluent English speaker to report on the transformation and hired Ms. Ressa. She became a fixture of the network’s Asia coverage. After a stint at the ABS-CBN network, she left to start Rappler.
In 2016, Rappler began dispatching reporters into the barrios to investigate the drug killings. Ms. Ressa’s reporters found that the police versions of the murders often didn’t match witness accounts. “Some of the victims seemed to be innocent men whom the police had set up, planting drugs and guns to make it look like these were suspects who resisted,” said Rambo Talabong, a Rappler intern at the time who covered the drug war.
Rappler disputed the death count of 2,167 announced by the Duterte administration at the end of 2016, reporting that about 4,000 more shootings that the government had listed as “unexplained homicides” were in fact part of Mr. Duterte’s drug war.
Later, Rappler reporters uncovered evidence that Mr. Duterte’s loyalists had manipulated Facebook to spread misinformation, prompting Facebook to take down hundreds of pages, accounts and groups for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” all of them linked to a group started by Nic Gabunada, Duterte’s social media strategist at the time.
In 2019, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia was honored for his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation,” especially his initiative to resolve a long-running border conflict with Eritrea. In his Nobel laureate’s lecture, Mr. Abiy spoke of the need to “plant seeds of love, forgiveness and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of our citizens.”
Two years later, Mr. Abiy has faced condemnation from human rights groups for unleashing a brutal military offensive in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Pro-government forces have been accused of massacres, sexual assault and ethnic cleansing, and United Nations officials have said the fighting has worsened a famine in which hundreds of thousands are going hungry.
Even at the time of his award, some experts questioned the wisdom of granting the prize to a young leader who had only been in office for a year, and whose commitment to peace had not been tested. Asked by Al Jazeera in late 2019 whether Mr. Abiy deserved the award, the Nobel committee declined to address concerns about human rights, saying in a statement: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
To some, the questions recalled those raised about another young, unproven leader: President Barack Obama, who was awarded the prize in 2009 after less than a year in office. The committee honored Mr. Obama for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Three years later, after Mr. Obama had led the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, surged U.S. troops into Afghanistan and escalated U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the author and security analyst Peter Bergen described him as “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.”
Other selections have also generated criticism. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was awarded the prize in 1973 for his efforts to negotiate an end to the war in Vietnam, despite his alleged involvement in the devastating U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia. Aung San Suu Kyi was given the award in 1991 for her opposition to military rule in Myanmar; two decades later, she is better known as the elected leader who defended the army’s brutal offensive against Rohingya Muslims, and who was ousted in a coup earlier this year.
The controversies have dogged the committee, which according to Nobel rules cannot withdraw a prize once it is given. Some commentators have called for the committee, which is made up of five members appointed by Norway’s Parliament, and often include retired politicians, to resign and for international experts to take their place.
“The Nobel name carries international weight and a committee with world-class capabilities should protect it,” Kjetil Tronvoll, director of Peace and Conflict studies at Bjorknes University College in Norway, wrote this year in the Guardian.
The choice of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient has often been viewed by autocratic governments as a provocative and hostile act, especially when the winner is a political opponent, an advocate of free expression or an agitator for greater liberties. Some authoritarian countries have even created their own anti-Nobel awards.
The best-known recent example is the 2010 establishment of the Confucius Peace Prize in China, named after the venerated Chinese sage of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The prize was part of the angry official reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize that year, which was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a prominent dissident and author imprisoned by the Chinese Communist authorities for subversion.
The first Confucius Prize ceremony was timed to coincide with the Nobel ceremony in Oslo, Norway, which Mr. Liu, who was imprisoned, and his wife, who was under house arrest, had been banned from attending. Even though Confucius Prize officials said their award’s creation had nothing to do with the Nobel, a booklet distributed at their ceremony stated: “China is a symbol of peace” and “Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population.”
The Confucius award appeared to have been organized so hastily that the winner, a Taiwanese politician who advocated greater ties with the Chinese mainland, was not even aware that he had won.
Another well-known instance of anti-Nobel vindictiveness came after Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist and pacifist who opposed the Nazis, was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize, in what was widely viewed as a world repudiation of Adolf Hitler and everything he stood for.
Hitler not only banned Mr. Von Ossietzky from accepting the prize, he prohibited any Germans from accepting any Nobel award in any category. Instead he established the German National Prize for Art and Science, an annual award given to three German citizens. The award was disbanded when World War II began in 1939.
Awards traced to criticism of the Nobels also have derived from the opposite political direction — activists who say they need to be broadened to better reflect a wider spectrum of achievements in the fields of justice, education and social change. A well-known example is the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the “Alternative Nobel,” established in 1980 by Jakob von Uexkull, a Baltic-German writer and philanthropist.
According to the Right Livelihood Award’s website, Mr. Von Uexkull had first proposed two additional Nobel Prizes to the Nobel Foundation, one for environmental work and the other for promotion of knowledge. When the foundation rejected the proposal, he founded an award himself, selling his stamp collection to initially finance the prize money.