Champions of press freedom to accept Nobel Peace Prize

Oslo (AFP) – She risks prison, he has buried several colleagues: Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, two champions of the free press, will on Friday receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize honouring a profession under attack.


Ressa, co-founder of the news website Rappler, and Muratov, chief editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, won the Nobel Prize in early October for "their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression."

"A healthy society and democracy is dependent on trustworthy information," the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Berit Reiss-Andersen said on Thursday, taking a swipe at propaganda, disinformation and fake news.

Free and independent journalism is however under threat around the world.

Asked whether the prestigious award had improved the situation in the Philippines -- currently ranked 138th in freedom of the press by Reporters Without Borders -- Ressa said on Thursday it had not.

"It's like having a Damocles sword hang over your head," the 58-year-old journalist said.

"Now in the Philippines, the laws are there but ... you tell the toughest stories at your own risk."

She mentioned her compatriot and former colleague, Jess Malabanan, a reporter for the Manila Standard who was fatally shot in the head on Wednesday.

Malabanan, who also worked for the Reuters news agency, had reported on the sensitive subject of the war on drugs in the country.

If the murder is confirmed to be linked to his profession, he would be the 16th journalist killed in the Philippines since the start of Rodrigo Duterte's presidency in 2016, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Ressa, a vocal critic of Duterte and his deadly drug war, is herself facing seven criminal lawsuits in her country.

Currently on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyber libel case, she had to apply to four courts for permission to travel to Norway for Friday's ceremony.

Foreign agent?

Meanwhile, 60-year-old Muratov heads one of the rare independent newspapers in a Russian media landscape largely under state control.

Known for its investigations into corruption and human rights abuses in Chechnya, Novaya Gazeta has seen six of its journalists killed since the 1990s, including famed investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya murdered in 2006.

"If we're going to be foreign agents because of the Nobel Peace Prize, we will not get upset, no," he told reporters when asked of the risk of being labelled as such by the Kremlin.

"But actually... I don't think we will get this label. We have some other risks though," Muratov added.

The "foreign agent" label is meant to apply to people or groups that receive funding from abroad and are involved in any kind of "political activity".

It has however been given to many Kremlin-critical journalists and media, rendering their work exceedingly difficult.

Russia is in 150th spot on the Reporters Without Borders country ranking of freedom of the press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the Nobel Prize is not a "shield" protecting journalists from the status.

'Reporting shouldn't be deadly'

According to a report compiled by Reporters Without Borders up to December 1, at least 1,636 journalists have been killed around the world in the past 20 years, including 46 since the beginning of the year.

"Reporting the news should cease to be a deadly activity," the organisation's secretary general Christophe Deloire said as he presented the report this week.

The number of journalists imprisoned around the world has also never been higher, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday, with 293 currently behind bars.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented to Ressa and Muratov at a ceremony -- scaled back due to the pandemic -- at Oslo's City Hall on Friday at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT).

The award consists of a diploma, a gold medal and a cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor (975,000 euros, $1.10 million) to be shared by the two laureates.

This year's other Nobel laureates in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics would normally receive their prizes at a separate ceremony in Stockholm on Friday.

But due to the pandemic, they received their awards in their home towns earlier this week.

A ceremony will be held in their honour in the Swedish capital on Friday, attended by the royal family.