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Fearless journalists win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the award is bestowed upon them for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is “a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”. Two other physicists have also been endowed with the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the body of knowledge on the world’s another critical front; climate change

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to two veteran journalists and editors from the Philippines and Russia, Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which it said is “a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”.

“Ms. Ressa and Mr. Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia,” said Ms. Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, in announcing the award. “At the same time, 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.”

Globally, 1,416 journalists have been killed since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which also marked 2020 as a dark benchmark when it recorded a record number of journalists behind bars. Journalists in the Philippines and Russia, the organization notes, have both faced an onslaught of attacks in the last decade.

Both countries, it further notes, have some of the highest rates of impunity in journalist murders globally. According to the organization, since 1992, 58 journalists have been killed for their work in Russia and 87 in the Philippines. The latter also experienced the single deadliest attack on journalists of any country in the world when 32 journalists and media workers were killed in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

“Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa personify the values of press freedom and the reason it matters. These are journalists under personal threat, who continuously defy censorship and repression to report the news, and have led the way for others to do the same,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon in the CPJ’s congratulation message. “This Nobel Peace Prize is a powerful recognition of their tireless work and that of journalists all around the world. Their struggle is our struggle.” 

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Born in 1963 and grew up in the Philippines, Ms. Ressa studied and graduated in English from Princeton University in the US, where she also studied molecular biology and theatre. Ms. Ressa has worked as a journalist for 35 years for international news agencies including CNN and ABS-CBN before founding Rappler in 2012, a digital media company for investigative journalism in the Philippines. Her main focus was on investigating terrorism in Southeast Asia. She opened and ran CNN’s Manila Bureau for nearly a decade before opening the network’s Jakarta bureau, which she ran from 1995 to 2005, according to the website.

As Rappler’s CEO and president, “Maria” has endured constant political harassment and arrests by the Duterte government, forced to post bail ten times to stay free, the website said. Rappler’s battle for truth and democracy is the subject of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival documentary, A Thousand Cuts.

For her courage and work on disinformation and “fake news”, Ms. Ressa was named Time Magazine’s 2018 “Person of the Year”, its 100 Most Influential People of 2019, and one of Time’s Most Influential Women of the Century.

Other prestigious awards she received include the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the Knight International Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists, the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award from the CPJ, the Shorenstein Journalism Award from Stanford University, the Columbia Journalism Award, and the Free Media Pioneer Award from the International Press Institute.

The committee notes that Ms. Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines.

“As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population.

“Ms. Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse,” the committee notes in its press release.

Mr. Muratov, meanwhile, has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions, the committee notes.

Born in 1961 in Russia, Mr. Muratov studied and graduated in philology from Moscow State University. He was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta starting in 1993. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years.

Over his years, Mr. Muratov has won a number of prestigious awards including the International Press Freedom Award from the CPJ in 2007, the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration in the degree of Chevalier (knight) in 2010, the Four Freedoms Award for Freedom of Speech from the Roosevelt Stichting, the Netherlands, and the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in 2016.

Novaja Gazeta itself becomes the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media, the committee notes.

Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja 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.

Novaja Gazeta’s opponents, on a contrary, have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya.

Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism, the committee said.

“Free, independent, and fact-based journalism serve to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protection against war and conflict.

“The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights. 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,” concluded Ms. Reiss-Andersen, in the announcement wrap-up.

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The Nobel Prize in Physics

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, has decided to award the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for “groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems” which include climate change.

While one half is awarded to Prof. Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza University of Rome in Italy for his theory of disordered materials and random processes, the other half is jointly bestowed upon the two physicists, Syukuro Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University in the US, and Prof. Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg in Germany “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming”.

The academy said Mr. Manabe and Prof. Hasselmann laid the foundation of our knowledge of the Earth’s climate and how humanity influences it. It further noted that Mr. Manabe demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to increased temperatures at the surface of the Earth.

In the 1960s, he led the development of physical models of the Earth’s climate and was the first person to explore the interaction between radiation balance and the vertical transport of air masses. His work laid the foundation for the development of current climate models, the academy noted in its press release upon the announcement of the award.

About ten years later, Prof. Hasselmann created a model that links together weather and climate, thus answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic. He also developed methods for identifying specific signals, fingerprints, that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in the climate. His methods have been used to prove that the increased temperature in the atmosphere is due to human emissions of carbon dioxide, the academy noted.

“The discoveries being recognised this year demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation, based on rigorous analysis of observations. This year’s Laureates have all contributed to us gaining deeper insight into the properties and evolution of complex physical systems,” said Chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, Thors Hans Hansson.

Sources: The Nobel Foundation, CPJ, Rappler