Why the Nobel Peace Prize was won by 2 journalists, and what that means for press freedom

The Nobel Committee often likes to make a statement when it awards the Nobel Peace Prize every year, and 2021 is no different. Two journalists, one from the Philippines, the other from Russia, were recipients — at a time when the free press is under global attack, and the truth is hard to find. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee often appears to make a statement when it awards its annual Peace Prize, and 2021 is no different.

    Two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia were recipients, at a time when the free press is under global attack, and the truth is too often hard to find.

    Nick Schifrin explains.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For a journalist whose government convicted her of crimes to try to force her silence, today was validation.

  • Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize Winner:

    When the state's power is focused on journalists, that the way you fight back is by doing your job.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For an editor whose newspaper lost six journalists to murder, today was a symbol of journalistic sacrifice.

  • Dmitry Muratov, Nobel Peace Prize Winner (through translator):

    This award is for our fallen professionals who gave their lives for our profession.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Maria Ressa was a CNN correspondent and "TIME" Person of the Year who started the independent news outlet Rappler in the Philippines.

  • Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine President:

    Shoot, and shoot dead.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Rappler exposed Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war and its brutality. The U.N. calls it an extrajudicial, murderous crackdown that's killed 12,000.

    Duterte also waged war on the media, and last year shut down the country's largest broadcaster. Ressa has faced 10 arrest warrants and still has seven legal cases pending.

  • Maria Ressa:

    We are fighting for facts.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, in a conversation with a Rappler reporter, she said those in power and technology companies maintain control not just through the gun, but by manipulating the pen.

  • Maria Ressa:

    When we live in a world where facts are debatable, when the world's largest distributor of news prioritizes the spread of lies laced with anger and hate, and spreads it faster and further than facts, then journalism becomes activism.

    The Nobel Peace Prize Committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Dmitry Muratov is the longtime editor of Novaya Gazeta, an island of independence in a sea of media silenced or controlled by the Kremlin. Other independent Russian journalists have been detained and outlets banned or declared foreign agents, the same designation given to the country's leading opposition figure, Alexei Navalny.

  • Dmitry Muratov (through translator):

    If I were a member of the Nobel Peace Committee, I would vote for a man the bookmakers bet on. But I think this man has everything ahead of him. And I am talking about Alexei Navalny.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Novaya Gazeta was in part started with money won by Mikhail Gorbachev for his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize. Today, at first, the Kremlin congratulated Muratov.

    But then the Justice Ministry labeled more Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and BBC journalists foreign agents.

    Yesterday was the 15-year anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Novaya Gazeta journalist who investigated Russian military and intelligence abuses.

    Today, Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said that kind of stifling of freedom of expression can stifle peace.

  • Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chairwoman, Norwegian Nobel Committee:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And to talk about today's Nobel Peace Prize, I'm joined by Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.

    Joel Simon, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    We just heard the chairwoman of the Nobel Committee say that journalists around the world face increasingly adverse conditions. So, do they?

    Joel Simon, Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists: Oh, absolutely.

    It's — this is the worst moment we have ever seen, record numbers of journalists imprisoned around the world. Every indicator of press freedoms suggest that press freedom is in decline almost everywhere. States are deploying violence against journalists.

    You have the example of Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post columnist who was murdered by the Saudi government, dismembered and disappeared. So there's an unprecedented wave of violence and oppression directed against journalists. Frankly, we have never seen anything like it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's zoom into Maria Ressa's work and the Philippines. President Duterte says he's going to step down.

    Does the crackdown that he initiated end with him? Was the crackdown personal? Or, in fact, could the crackdown continue because he has helped it be institutionalized.

  • Joel Simon:

    He's used just systematic campaigns of harassment. He's used social media to spread lies and disinformation. He has waged sort of a frontal assault on critical journalists, including Maria Ressa.

    So that's an institutionalized practice that probably will outlast him. And it's something we're seeing not just in the Philippines, but in these kinds of modern authoritarian states around the world.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Moving to Russia, there's been an unprecedented attack by the Kremlin on any dissent and any critical media over the last year.

    Has it worked?

  • Joel Simon:

    Oh, yes, it's worked.

    I mean, I think one of the things you have to recognize about Russia is that, while the violence against journalists has declined — I mean, Dmitry Muratov has talked about the warlike casualties that his news organization, Novaya Gazeta, has suffered, the level of violence has declined somewhat in Russia, because the government has become much more adept at deploying kind of bureaucratic and legalistic attacks against journalists.

    The favorite strategy these days is simply to declare journalists foreign agents for receiving any sort of funding from outside of Russia, and then putting onerous restrictions on them that basically make it impossible for them to operate.

    So repression is very much alive in Russia. It's just become more institutionalized and sophisticated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And zooming back out, Maria Ressa talked multiple times today about the importance of facts and the business of facts that we journalists are in.

    Why is it so important, do you think, that we need to be able to have a common set of facts, when we increasingly see efforts that controlling political power is actually controlling information?

  • Joel Simon:

    Yes, we're in the information age. And we're involved in sort of a millennial struggle over who controls information and who gets to determine our reality.

    And so journalists are very much a part of that battle. And that's why we're seeing such concerted attacks from governments and other enemies of free expression around the world.

    But if you don't have information, if you don't have facts, then you don't have accountability. Then you don't have the ability to participate in any sort of political process to determine your own future, to determine your own fate, to expose corruption, to defend your rights.

    All of these things depend on our ability to access independent information. I mean, look, if you look around the world, look at the challenges we face that the Nobel Committee could have recognized. We're in the midst of a pandemic. We're confronting climate change.

    But I think what the Nobel Committee was saying is, these global problems are enormous, but we can't really fight back against them without essential information. And that's what journalists provide.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Joel Simon, thank you very much.

  • Joel Simon:

    Thank you. It's a pleasure.

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