It is not often in these trying times that a news headline brings a genuine smile to the heart. Friday’s news that two courageous journalists – Maria Ressa, director of Philippine website Rappler.com, and Dmitri Muratov, editor in chief of Russia’s last independent daily newspaper, Novaya Gazeta – have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was one such rare occasion.
Attentive readers of Modern Times Review will likely know of both; in April 2020, we carried a review of We Hold the Line Marc Weise’s documentary that was the result of a year closely following Ressa as she battled the obstacles that President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous regime put in the way of her fearless truth-telling.
Muratov has also faced a chronic campaign of harassment by the Russian state, unhappy with his support of fact-based professional journalism, which he reiterated after learning of his award, stating: «We will continue to represent Russian journalism, which is now being suppressed.»
Novaya Gazeta’s fearless reporting has not been without personal cost to its staff: 15 years ago this week, on October 3, 2006, Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow flat. Three years earlier, her Novaya Gazeta colleague Yuri Shcherkochikhin died in suspicious circumstances in a clinic known to be treated (and be carefully controlled) by Russian Federal Security Service officers after 16 days with a mysterious illness. Relatives were denied an independent postmortem, but tissue samples they managed to obtain and the test did not support findings of an allergic reaction. Shcherkochikhin had investigated allegations that The secret services had orchestrated Moscow apartment block bombings of 1999.
«free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protest against the abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.»
Politkovskaya’s long history of exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya made her many enemies; a number of Chechens were identified as being involved in her killing, but one suspect was tipped off and fled Russia and others were acquitted at a trial heavily criticised by independent observers. The fact that Politkovskaya had been under surveillance by the Russian security services for more than two months before her death only increased suspicions of political involvement in her death.
Ressa and her team have faced death threats and numerous court actions; she is currently on bail pending the result of an appeal against a six-year prison sentence in a cyber libel trial. She responded enthusiastically to the light the Nobel Prize shines of the work of her team, posting on social media that: «This is a recognition of how hard it is to be a journalist today How hard it is to keep doing what we do…. It’s a recognition of the difficulties and hopefully of how we’re going to win the battle for the truth. The battle for facts. We hold the line.»
The Nobel Prize committee said the award recognised that «free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protest against the abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.» The two journalists’ «courageous fight for freedom of expression» was a «precondition for democracy and lasting peace.»
Such is the Nobel Peace Prize status that even the Kremlin felt compelled to praise the award to Muratov, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, congratulating him as a «talented and brave» man.
The award also shines a light on the international campaign for press freedom by the Reporters Without Borders organisation, which launched the #HoldTheLine solidarity campaign earlier this year in support of Ressa.
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