Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa, a Staunch Duterte Critic, Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Aie Balagtas See and Marielle Lucenio
Manila
2021-10-08
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Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa, a Staunch Duterte Critic, Wins Nobel Peace Prize Rappler CEO Maria Ressa speaks to journalists in Manila after she was convicted on a cyber- libel charge, June 15, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Updated at 2:05 p.m. ET on 2021-10-8

Maria Ressa, the crusading editor of Philippine news website Rappler which has shone a light on thousands of extrajudicial killings carried out under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, has won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Oslo-based organization announced Friday.

In a rare citation honoring the work of journalists, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said Ressa and Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov, a newspaper editor in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, would share the 2021 peace prize in recognition of “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition of democracy and lasting peace.”

“Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time,” the committee said in its announcement.

The Nobel committee lauded Ressa and Muratov as “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.”  

Ressa, 58, is the CEO of Rappler, a digital media news agency, which President Rodrigo Duterte has attacked as a source of “fake news.” Elsewhere, Rappler has received accolades for its reporting, especially its dogged coverage of the drug war despite Rappler reporters being harassed, singled out and criticized at official press briefings. 

“It could not have come at a better time, a time when journalists and the truth are being attacked and undermined,” Rappler said in a statement. “We thank the Nobel [Committee] 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.”

“Journalism has never been as important as it is today yet it’s so difficult to do the job that we’ve set out to do,” Ressa said. 

“Rappler lives with the possibility of a shutdown on a daily basis. We’re on a quicksand. Yet, at the same time, if you keep the North Star ahead of you, you protect the facts,” she said. You hold power to account.”

In a span of five years, Philippine courts, which are notorious for slow resolution of cases, have issued 10 arrest warrants against Ressa.

In June 2020, she and a former colleague were convicted of cyber libel and could face up to six years in prison. They are free on bail pending an appeal. Since then, two other cyber-libel cases against Ressa were dismissed.

Ressa’s conviction was part of President Duterte’s attempt to muzzle journalists reporting on the drug war, human rights and press freedom advocates said. The International Criminal Court in The Hague is investigating his five-year-old administration’s bloody crackdown on narcotics.

Ressa and Muratov are only the seventh and eighth journalists to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in its 119-year history and the first since Yemeni journalist, activist and politician Tawakkol Karman in 2011, according to Rappler.

Muratov heads Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper.

“Since its start-up in 1993, Novaya Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ‘troll factories’ to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia,” the committee said.

‘Fearless defender’

The committee recognized Ressa as a “fearless defender of freedom of expression.” It also acknowledged Rappler’s coverage of authorities using social media “to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”  

The committee released a YouTube audio recording of Ressa receiving an official phone call notifying her that she would share the peace prize with another journalist – one of five Nobel Prizes awarded in different categories each year. The two co-winners will receive the prize on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

“I am speechless,” she told the caller. “Oh my gosh. … Thank you so very much.”

Later, Ressa said she would not have won the award without her organization’s small army of young journalists.  

In addition, Ressa told reporters in Manila that standing up against Duterte was a “battle of facts.” 

“I guess what this just shows is that the Nobel Peace Prize committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust. If you don’t have any of these things, you certainly can’t conquer coronavirus, climate change,” Ressa said. 

International recognition

Praise for Ressa came from the Philippines and across the globe, including from one of her international attorneys, Amal Clooney.

“She has sacrificed her own freedom for the rights of journalists all over the world and I am grateful to the Nobel Committee for shining a light on her incredible courage,” Clooney said in a statement. “I hope the Philippine authorities will now stop persecuting her and other journalists and that this prize helps to protect the press around the world.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the prize awarded to Ressa and Muratov “is not only a recognition of their work but of the importance of freedom of the press and of expression in the countries and throughout the world.” 

“We commend them for defending these freedoms in increasingly challenging conditions – in Ressa’s case, these challenging conditions have included a raft of cases and legal proceedings –  are proud to be in the community of independent journalists ready to hold the line with them,” the NUJP said. 

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said Ressa’s win shines a light on the Filipino press in general.

“Her win is a victory for press freedom advocates across the Philippines, which remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists,” the association said in a statement. “Reporters routinely face online harassment, local newsrooms face pressure to self-censor, and regional journalists remain the most vulnerable to violence, including detention and killings.”

In Washington, leaders of the National Press Club said Ressa deserved the recognition.

“Maria has been an inspiration to the world as she fought for the truth and for her rights and in fact the rights of free people everywhere as the leader of Rappler,” Lisa Nicole Matthews, president of the National Press Club, and Angela Greiling Keane, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, said in a statement. “We know she has a smile on her face this morning because she is almost always smiling. We do too.

“The Nobel Committee could not have picked a better person to represent journalists.”

Philippine opposition leader and Vice President Leni Robredo congratulated Ressa for the recognition of her “tireless efforts to hold the line for truth and accountability.” 

“I applaud your courage,” Robredo, who on Thursday filed to run for president in 2022, said via Twitter.

There was no immediate comment on Friday from the presidential palace in Manila.

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