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Nobel Peace Prize

Journalists who took on Putin and Duterte win 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

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Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, journalists whose work has angered the rulers of the Philippines and Russia, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, an award the committee said was an endorsement of free speech rights under threat worldwide, write Nora Buli in Oslo, Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow, Emma Farge in Geneva, Gwladys Fouche, Terje Solsvik, Nerijus Adomaitis and Victoria Klesty.

The two were awarded "for their courageous fight for freedom of expression" in their countries, Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told a news conference.

"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," she added.

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"Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda."

Muratov is editor-in-chief of Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which has defied the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin with probes into wrongdoing and corruption, and extensively covered the conflict in Ukraine.

When Reuters interviewed him six years ago, his office was across the hall from portraits of six Novaya Gazeta journalists killed since 2001, including Anna Politkovskaya, known for her fearless reporting on Russia's wars in Chechnya, who was shot dead in her stairwell on Putin’s birthday in 2006.

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Muratov, 59, is the first Russian to win the Nobel Peace Prize since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev -- who himself helped set up Novaya Gazeta with the money he received from winning the award in 1990.

Ressa, 58,is the first Nobel Peace laureate from the Philippines. She heads Rappler, a digital media company which she co-founded in 2012, and which has grown prominent through investigative reporting, including into large scale killings during a police campaign against drugs.

"Fighting a government is crazy: I didn’t set out to do it, but it became necessary in order to do my job," she wrote in the Financial Times in December.

"I was arrested for being a journalist — for publishing truthful articles unpalatable to those in power — but this has only served to unshackle me, to help me understand what was happening and to chart the path ahead."

The prize is the first Nobel Peace Prize for journalists since the German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935 for revealing his country's secret post-war rearmament programme.

In August, a Philippine court dismissed a libel case against Ressa, one of several lawsuits filed against the journalist who says she has been targeted because of her news site's critical reports on President Rodrigo Duterte.

The combination picture shows Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa speaking during an event attended by law students at the University of the Philippines College of Law in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 12, 2019 (left), and Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta's editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov speaking in Moscow, Russia October 7, 2013. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez (left)/Evgeny Feldman  NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa speaks to the media after pleading not guilty to tax evasion charges, in Rappler's office in Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

The combination picture shows Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa speaking during an event attended by law students at the University of the Philippines College of Law in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 12, 2019 (left), and Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta's editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov speaking in Moscow, Russia October 7, 2013. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez (left)/Evgeny Feldman

The plight of Ressa, one of several journalists named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for fighting media intimidation, has raised international concern about the harassment of media in the Philippines, a country once seen as a standard bearer for press freedom in Asia.

In Moscow, Nadezhda Prusenkova, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta, told Reuters staff were surprised and delighted.

"We're shocked. We didn't know," said Prusenkova. "Of course we're happy and this is really cool."

The head of the Nobel committee, Reiss-Andersen, said the committee had decided to send a message about the importance of rigorous journalism at a time when technology has made it easier than ever to spread falsehoods.

"We find that people are manipulated by the press, and ... fact-based, high-quality journalism is in fact more and more restricted," she told Reuters.

It was also was a way to shine a light on the difficult situations for journalists, specifically under the leadership in Russia and the Philippines, she added.

"I don't have insight in the minds of neither Duterte, nor Putin. But what they will discover is that the attention is directed towards their nations, and where they will have to defend the present situation, and I am curious how they will respond," Reiss-Andersen told Reuters.

The Kremlin congratulated Muratov.

"He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented, he is brave," said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The award will give both journalists greater international visibility and may inspire a new generation of journalists, said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

"We normally expect that greater visibility actually means greater protection for the rights and the safety of the individuals concerned," he told Reuters.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on 10 December, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

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Nobel Peace Prize: Is this Greta Thunberg's year?

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An open ledger for the received nominations for the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize is seen in the archives of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in central Oslo, Norway September 14, 2021. Picture taken September 14, 2021. REUTERS/Nora Buli
16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced just three weeks before world leaders gather for a climate summit that scientists say could determine the future of the planet, one reason why prize watchers say this could be the year of Greta Thunberg (pictured), write Nora Buli and Gwladys Fouche.

The world's most prestigious political accolade will be unveiled on Oct. 8. While the winner often seems a total surprise, those who follow it closely say the best way to guess is to look at the global issues most likely to be on the minds of the five committee members who choose.

With the COP26 climate summit set for the start of November in Scotland, that issue could be global warming. Scientists paint this summit as the last chance to set binding targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for the next decade, vital if the world is to have hope of keeping temperature change below the 1.5 degree Celsius target to avert catastrophe.

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That could point to Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, who at 18 would be the second youngest winner in history by a few months, after Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai.

"The committee often wants to send a message. And this will be a strong message to send to COP26, which will be happening between the announcement of the award and the ceremony," Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Reuters.

Another big issue the committee may want to address is democracy and free speech. That could mean an award for a press freedom group, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists or Reporters Without Borders, or for a prominent political dissident, such as exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya or jailed Russian activist Alexei Navalny.

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A win for a journalism advocacy group would resonate "with the large debate about the importance of independent reporting and the fighting of fake news for democratic governance," said Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

A Nobel for either Navalny or Tsikhanouskaya would be an echo of the Cold War, when peace and literature prizes were bestowed on prominent Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Oddsmakers also tip groups such as the World Health Organization or the vaccine sharing body COVAX, which are directly involved in the global battle against COVID-19. But prize watchers say this could be less likely than might be assumed: the committee already cited the pandemic response last year, when it chose the U.N. World Food Programme.

While parliamentarians from any country can nominate candidates for the prize, in recent years the winner has tended to be a nominee proposed by lawmakers from Norway, whose parliament appoints the prize committee.

Norwegian lawmakers surveyed by Reuters have included Thunberg, Navalny, Tsikhanouskaya and the WHO on their lists.

SECRETS OF THE VAULT

The committee's full deliberations remain forever secret, with no minutes taken of discussions. But other documents, including this year's full list of 329 nominees, are kept behind an alarmed door protected by several locks at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, to be made public in 50 years.

Inside the vault, document folders line the walls: green for nominations, blue for correspondence.

It is a trove for historians seeking to understand how laureates emerge. The most recent documents made public are about the 1971 prize, won by Willy Brandt, chancellor of West Germany, for his moves to reduce East-West tension during the Cold War.

"The Europe you see today is basically the legacy of those efforts," librarian Bjoern Vangen told Reuters.

The documents reveal that one of the main finalists Brandt beat out for the prize was French diplomat Jean Monnet, a founder of the European Union. It would take another 41 years for Monnet's creation, the EU, to finally win the prize in 2012.

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