The symbolism of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize goes far beyond its award to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, independent journalists fighting for free speech in the Philippines and Russia.
“They are the representatives of all journalists who uphold this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press are facing increasingly challenging conditions,” the Nobel Prize-winning committee said in a statement.
Harassment, arrest and even murder of journalists investigating the affairs of influential people are on the rise worldwide and spread from autocracy to imperfect democracy. Reporters Without Borders lists 50 journalists killed in 2020. Threats to fact-based press around the world also include the spread of social media drainage that floods the truth with lies.
The choice of these particular journalists underlines these points.
Muratov, editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose six journalists were killed while trying to investigate the actions of the authorities.
The award was presented a day after the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya, the world’s best-known of the six who fiercely criticized the Kremlin’s wars in Chechnya and Vladimir Putin. She was shot in a contract murder in the lobby of her apartment building in central Moscow – on Putin’s 54th birthday – in what many of Putin’s critics saw as a gift from the boss from within the regime.
The murder was never solved, as was the earlier unsuccessful attempt to kill Politkovskaya with poison. The statute of limitations for bringing charges against those responsible for her death expired the day before the Nobel Prize was announced.
In 2012, I interviewed Muratov in Moscow at his office, and he scolded the fake investigations into Politkovskaya’s death, in which they tried to attribute him to lackeys or leaders of the political opposition. He also mourned the unsolved death, most likely from poison, of another colleague and investigative star Yuri Shchekochikhin.
When he was informed that he had won a prize, Muratov said: “This is Novaya Gazeta. This is for those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech. “
Some Kremlin critics condemn the decision to present the award to Muratov, believing that the award should have gone to Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader who barely survived the Kremlin’s attempt to poison the weapon and is now in prison on trumped-up charges. Indeed, the award to Navalny would be an impressive boost to the crushed opposition movement in Russia, where Navalny, like nearly all independent legislative candidates, has been banned, imprisoned, or forced out of the country.
And Navalny himself is a brilliant investigative journalist whose team has produced stunning videos revealing alleged corruption of Putin and other Kremlin leaders.
Other critics say the award should have been given to Novaya Gazeta itself in memory of the victims, not Muratov, who they believe is compromised because he operates in a gray zone where he still meets with Kremlin leaders. They note that even on the day the Nobel Prize was announced, the Kremlin added several more reporters to its register of so-called “foreign media agents,” a classification used to destroy almost all independent media outlets.
I would like Navalny to win. However, I see the award to Muratov as a less subtle message from the Nobel Committee to democratic countries that it is a harbinger of their media future if they do not come together.
Most Americans have yet to take this message to heart.
Just over a week before the Nobel Prize was awarded, the killer of five journalists from the Annapolis Capitol Gazette in 2018 was sentenced to several life sentences. While the man had complaints about the newspaper, he also tweeted, “Citing @realDonaldTrump as ‘unqualified’ @capgaznews could (again) end badly.”
The killing instincts of some of Trump’s supporters should not be taken lightly after the events of January 6, as he intends to flee again. He not only made “Fake News” his mantra (spreading the Big Lies); Not only does he call fact-based news “enemy of the people,” but he also has a history of encouraging violence against his critics.
The award to the brave Maria Ressa, co-founder of digital media company Rappler, which has tirelessly investigated the extrajudicial assassinations of President Rodrigo Duterte, is another message to the United States and the West. Ressa sharply criticized Facebook’s role in spreading lies and disinformation emanating from the autocratic Duterte. And it also attacks Facebook’s failure to enforce its own anti-hate policy in non-Western markets such as India and Myanmar.
After receiving the Nobel news, Ress said she hopes for “energy for all of us to continue the battle for facts.”
The battle for facts is already raging in full force in the United States and will only intensify in 2022 and 2024. Ressa and Muratov’s awards are a signal of where we can move if this battle is lost.
Trudie Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for The Philadelphia Inquirer, PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA, 19101. Her email address is [email protected]