Awarding the Nobel Prize to Journalists Recognizes the Growing Repression of Media

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitri Muratov, comes at a time of growing assaults on a free press across the world, as authoritarian governments extend their reach and the slogan of “fake news” is used to suppress dissenting views.

Ms. Ressa has faced multiple criminal charges for the way her news website Rappler has challenged the rule of President Rodrigo Duterte. Both she and Mr. Muratov, whose Novaya Gazeta newspaper has been a persistent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, work under governments that use a range of methods — from repressive legislation to arrests — to muzzle criticism.

Last year, both UNESCO and the Council of Europe issued reports deploring the erosion of media freedom. They noted growing police attacks on journalists covering protests, including intimidation and beatings, and the passing of so-called “fake news” laws in countries from Hungary to Russia that can be used to repress legitimate journalism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 274 journalists were imprisoned in 2020, the highest rate since 1992, and said “the number of journalists singled out for murder in reprisal for their work more than doubled in 2020.”

The V-Dem Institute, a Swedish organization that tracks democratic indicators, said in their 2020 report that “media censorship and the repression of civil society” were “typically the first move in a gradual process” of moving toward autocracy and so “an early warning signal for what might yet be to come.”

It reported that, with respect to freedom of the media, “32 countries are declining substantially, compared to only 19 just three years ago.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has noted that authoritarian governments have repeatedly taken cover in “anti-press rhetoric from the United States.”

Leaders including Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Hungarian President Viktor Orban have used former President Trump’s term “fake news” as a means to discredit the press in general.

The existence online of a growing volume of disinformation becomes a means to undermine real and challenging journalism that adheres to the facts, especially for the growing number of governments across the world that brook no criticism.

Both the Council of Europe and the Committee to Protect Journalists have expressed concern over the way the Covid-19 pandemic has led to violations of journalists’ freedom.

“Despite the importance of media freedom, which arguably has never been more important than during this public health crisis, the pandemic has led to an array of restrictions on reporting,” Scott Griffen, the deputy director of the International Press Institute, said earlier this year.

Among the repressive methods being used to intimidate the press are censorship, restrictive legislation, harassment and, as in Egypt’s case, sweeping curtailment of any social media accounts or websites that are deemed to constitute national security threats.

Of her client, Ms. Ressa, Amal Clooney, a British international human rights lawyer, said: “I am grateful to the Nobel Committee for shining a light on her incredible courage.” She added that she hopes “this prize helps to protect the press around the world.”

Announcing the award, the Nobel committee chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said: “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations.”

Among the prominent journalists murdered in recent years have been Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta, the Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, and, this year, Peter R. de Vries in the Netherlands. All had made it their business to reveal uncomfortable truths.

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