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Maria Ressa becomes second woman journalist to win Nobel Peace Prize

‘Holding power to account – the mission of journalism – has never been as important as it is today’

Lou crop.jpg
Lou Ferreira
8 October 2021, 4.00pm
Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa
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Collage: Inge Snip. Photo: UPI / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov were awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The Nobel Committee selected them for their work to protect freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia, respectively.

Ressa called the prize “a global recognition of the journalist’s role in repairing, fixing our broken world”. Co-founder and CEO of digital news outlet Rappler, she is most famous for her investigative journalism in the Philippines into President Duterte’s violent anti-drug campaign, government corruption and the use of social media to spread disinformation.

Since 1936, when the award went to German journalist Carl von Ossietzky, journalists have won the peace prize only twice: in 2011 and now in 2021.

Ressa is the second woman journalist – and the 18th woman – to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Tawakkol Karman from Yemen was the first woman journalist to win the award, in 2011. She was recognised for founding Women Journalists Without Chains.

On Twitter, journalists and activists for press freedom celebrated the Nobel Committee’s decision.

Corinne Vella, sister of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, said the “award could not be timelier”.

Julie Posetti, global director of research at the International Centre for Journalism (ICFJ), said she was “In floods of tears here. This is news that should allow all of us to get our #courageon!”

“They are 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,” the Nobel Committee wrote in a press release about their decision, adding that recognising free expression is “a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”.

Joel Simon, executive director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), applauded the decision and called Ressa and Muratov “symbols of the struggle for press freedom”.

In an openDemocracy webinar in April, Ressa described attacks on the media, human rights activists and opposition politicians that began soon after Duterte became president of the Philippines in 2016. Since then, she has been subpoenaed and arrested and is currently challenging eight criminal charges that, together, could send her to prison for up to 100 years.

“I think this time matters, and what we do matters. And holding power to account – the mission of journalism – has never been as important as it is today,” Ressa said during the webinar.

Ressa and Muratov were selected from a pool of 329 candidates for the Peace Prize, including climate change activists and scientists whose work was vital in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The committee’s decision to select journalists this year was because “free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda”. They added that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are instrumental in creating peace between countries and a “better world order”.

Empower and protect, don’t prohibit: a better approach to child work

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