The two journalists who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize have received their awards during a pomp-filled ceremony in Norway, where both warned that the world needs independent reporting to counter the power of authoritarian governments.
Maria Ressa of the Philippines and fellow laureate Dmitry Muratov of Russia gave their Nobel lectures at Oslo City Hall on Friday.
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The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded them the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their separate fights for freedom of expression in countries where reporters have faced persistent attacks, harassment and killings.
In 2012, Ressa, 58, co-founded Rappler, a news website critical of the Philippine government. Muratov, 59, was one of the founders in 1993 of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
“Yes, we growl and bite. Yes, we have sharp teeth and strong grip,” Muratov said of journalists. “But we are the prerequisite for progress. We are the antidote against tyranny.”
Muratov also used his speech to give a dire warning about the potential for a war between Russia and Ukraine. A massive Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s border has led to Western diplomatic efforts to prevent an invasion, which the Kremlin has denied it is planning.
“In [the] heads of some crazy geopoliticians, a war between Russia and Ukraine is not something impossible any longer. But I know that wars end with identifying soldiers and exchanging prisoners,“ Muratov said.
Muratov also called for a minute of silence during the ceremony to honour journalists killed in the line of duty.
Notable for its investigations into corruption and human rights abuses in Chechnya, Novaya Gazeta has seen six of its contributors killed since the 1990s, including prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006.
“Let us rise and honour my and Maria Ressa’s reporter colleagues, who have given their lives for this profession, with a minute of silence, and let us give our support to those who suffer persecution,” Muratov said, adding: “I want journalists to die old.”
‘Toxic sludge’ on social media
Ressa, the first person from the Philippines to win the Nobel Peace Prize, offered a bleak assessment of the media industry, saying “the era of competition for news is dead”.
“We need to help independent journalism survive, first by giving greater protection to journalists and standing up against states which target journalists,” she said.
Ressa also launched a vitriolic attack against American tech giants, accusing them of fuelling a flood of “toxic sludge” on social media that “has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pitting us against each other, bringing out our fears, anger and hate, and setting the stage for the rise of authoritarians and dictators around the world”.
Ressa, whose website is highly critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, is the subject of seven lawsuits in her country that she says risk putting her in jail for 100 years.
Currently on parole, pending an appeal after being convicted of defamation last year, she needed to ask four courts for permission to travel and collect her Nobel in person.
Together with the medals with the effigy of the prizes founder Alfred Nobel and diploma, came 10 million kronor ($1.1m) to be shared between them.
Ceremonies honouring all of the newest Nobel laureates are held in Oslo and Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death.
However, due to the pandemic, Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and economics were presented during ceremonies in the laureates’ hometowns.
Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Al Jazeera that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to journalists was “extremely important and extremely welcome” in order to highlight the growing challenges and threats the media faces.
“It’s the first time in more than 80 years that journalists have been awarded the Nobel peace prize, and the journalists [that won the prize] from the Philippines and Russia are from two of the countries where it’s incredibly dangerous and difficult to be an independent journalist,” he said.
“So this is a very welcome move and we hope that it highlights the plight of journalists globally, who every day put their life or their liberty on the line to bring us the news.”