Highest honour - GulfToday

Highest honour

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

MariaRessaPhilippinesleftandDmitryMurato

Maria Ressa of the Philippines (left) and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were the 2021 recipients of the prestigious prize.

The Nobel Prize Committee has challenged our era of “fake news” propagated by radical-right radio and television channels and social media by awarding this year’s coveted Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dimitry Muratov, journalists who have braved the wrath of purveyors of untruth to report as honestly as they could.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prize to these journalists “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” The

Committee regards them 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.

“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. This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize is therefore firmly anchored in the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will.”

Having invented dynamite and 35 other lucrative items, he bequeathed his fortune to the

Nobel Prize Institution which funds five annual prizes to recognise the greatest benefits to humankind in peace making, literature, physics, chemistry and economics.

The first Filipino to win the award, Ressa has been subjected to a well-coordinated campaign of online abuse and lawsuits due to her coverage of the Duterte administration’s brutal campaign against drug dealers and users which has slain 30,000. Following the announcement of the Nobel award, Ressa castigated Facebook, accusing it of spreading “lies laced with anger and hate” rather than sticking to facts.

Muratov said he considers the prize as an award to Nova Gazeta journalists and columnists who were murdered. He named Anna Politkovskaya, who focused on the conflict in Chechnya. “Since the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t awarded posthumously, they came up with this so that Anya could take it, but through other, second hands,” he said. Six of the newspaper’s journalists have been killed since the paper was founded. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 17 media men and women were killed in the Philippines over 10 years and 23 in Russia.

Born in Manila in 1963, Ressa moved to the US at the age of 10 where after attending local schools, she went to Princeton University where she graduated with a B.A. degree in English. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study political theatre at the University of the Philippines Diliman where she also taught journalism courses. She launched her career at a government television station before establishing her own production company while reporting for CNN from Manila.

She was based in Jakarta for a decade as CNN’s lead investigative reporter, focusing on terrorist networks. After she returned to Manila in 2011, she and three other women established Rappler and began exposing human rights violations, corruption, and other depredations of the Duterte regime, earning numerous awards and citations for her reporting. However, she also attracted threats of attack and murder and received 10 arrest warrants over two years.

She was found guilty in June 2020 for publishing allegations without “a scintilla of proof.” While this case is on appeal, her international lawyer Amal Clooney, told CNN that Ressa remains a convict and cannot leave the Philippines for Stockholm in Sweden to receive the prize.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the verdict “basically kills freedom of speech and of the press.” 

Dimitry Muratov was born in the south-western Russia in 1961, graduated from university there, and became a journalist during the reign of reformist Soviet reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev who fostered openness in the media. In 1987, Muratov began work at the communist youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, which was sharply critical of the government, and in 1993, he and a dozen colleagues established Novaya Gazeta. Gorbachev — who won the Nobel Prize in 1990 — donated some of his Nobel Prize financial award to purchase computers and pay staff for the paper.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the paper is seen as one of the “only truly critical newspapers with national influence in Russia today.” The paper has reported on human rights violations, official corruption, abuse of power by powerful oligarchs, and multiple murders by the Russian military and police of detained Chechens. After Muratov and Novaya Gazeta received death threats, the paper provided employees with weapons training and armed them with non-lethal weapons. Muratov was editor-in-chief from 1995 until 2017 and was re-elected by staff in November 2019.

Like Ressa, he has received numerous awards for defending the freedom of the press, including the 2007 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists and France’s highest national order, the Legion of Honour.

The Nobel Prize provides both prestige and protection for Ressa and Muratov who have, for years, have reported freely and fairly on events despite strain and pressures from their respective governments, internet trolls, and critics. The prize will also encourage journalists across the world to battle “fake news” with truth and to stand strong in the face of opposition from authorities and autocrats, businessmen and politicians, and media editors and owners.

There have been 109 individuals and 28 organisations among Nobel Peace Prize laureates between 1901, when this award was established, and 2021. Ressa and Muratov are relatively “safe” choices.

The Nobel Committee has made major mistakes when selecting figures for the Peace Prize. The most recent was Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who ended the war between his country and Eretrea but is currently waging a bloody conflict in Tigray which may have killed as many as 200,000. His image as a peacemaker has been brutally cancelled by reports of atrocities against civilians and ethnic cleansing.

Earlier mistakes include ex-US President Barack Obama who was the laureate for 2009, only months after taking office and before he took decisions which led to war in this region and promoted US “over the horizon” drone warfare responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

There have, of course, been well deserved awards to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter for his post presidential career as peacemaker, and Malala Yousafzai and Kailas Satyarthi for struggling for the right of all children to an education.

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