COPENHAGEN – The two journalists who shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize received their awards Friday during a pomp-filled ceremony in Norway, with both warning that the world needs independent reporting to counter the power of authoritarian governments.
Maria Ressa of the Philippines and fellow laureate Dmitry Muratov of Russia gave their Nobel lectures at Oslo City Hall. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded them the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their separate fights for freedom of expression in countries where reporters have faced persistent attacks, harassment and killings.
“Yes, we growl and bite. Yes, we have sharp teeth and strong grip,” Muratov said of journalists. “But we are the prerequisite for progress. We are the antidote against tyranny.”
Muratov also used his speech to give a dire warning about the potential for a war between Russia and Ukraine. A massive Russian troop buildup near Ukraine's border has led to Western diplomatic efforts to prevent an invasion, which the Kremlin has denied it is planning.
"In (the) heads of some crazy geopoliticians, a war between Russia and Ukraine is not something impossible any longer. But I know that wars end with identifying soldiers and exchanging prisoners,“ Muratov said.
Ressa, 58, co-founded Rappler, a news website critical of the Philippine government, in 2012. Muratov, 59, was one of the founders in 1993 of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Ressa, the first person from the Philippines to win the Nobel Peace Prize, offered a bleak assessment of the journalism industry, saying “the era of competition for news is dead.”
“We need to help independent journalism survive, first by giving greater protection to journalists and standing up against states which target journalists,” she told the audience of 200 people, including Norwegian royals and officials who sat with a meter (3 feet) separating them for the pandemic-curtailed ceremony. Normally the Oslo event is attended by 1,000 people.
Ressa, who was visibly moved, couldn’t resist taking a selfie with Muratov inside the Oslo City Hall before the arrival of the Norwegian royals.
Together with the medals featuring the effigy of the prizes founder Alfred Nobel and diploma, came 10 million kronor ($1.1 million) to be shared between them.
Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said free speech and information are “a basic prerequisite for democracy itself.” The laureates “are participants in a war where the written word is their weapon, where truth is their goal and every exposure of misuse of power is a victory."
Muratov said that in Russia, journalism “is going through a dark valley” with many reporters and human rights activists being branded as “foreign agents.”
"Many of our colleagues have lost their jobs. Some have to leave the country. Some are deprived of the opportunity to live a normal life for an unknown period of time. Maybe forever…”
Muratov ended his lecture by asking the assembly to honor reporters "who have given their lives for this profession, with a minute of silence. I want journalists to die old.”
On Thursday, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists said that imprisonments of media workers are on the rise, with 365 journalists behind bars compared with 235 last year. Nine journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan alone and 102 imprisoned in China.
Russia still has 12 journalists behind bars, and three reporters were killed in the Philippines, it said.
David Beasley, head of the World Food Program that won the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, also gave a lecture in Oslo and called on world leaders “to assert your power and stop all of these horrible wars.” Beasley was given the award last year at a ceremony in Rome, due to the pandemic.
He said that the combination of conflict, climate and COVID “has created an unprecedented perfect storm,” adding “45 million in 43 countries are knocking on famine’s door— and it is within our power to save them.”
He also urged billionaires to “give us the $6.6 billion we need to prevent famine now and save 45 million lives now,” and said they “know how to revolutionize phones, cars, rockets, and retail. Help us revolutionize how the planet eats.”
Ceremonies honoring all of the newest Nobel laureates are usually held in Oslo and Sweden's capital, Stockholm, on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death. However, due to the pandemic, the awards in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and economics were presented during ceremonies in the laureates’ hometowns.
“The ongoing coronavirus pandemic still affects our lives in a profound manner. Like last year, the Nobel award diploma and medals have been handed over to you,” Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, said later Friday at a ceremony to pay tribute to the laureates at Stockholm City Hall.
The 250-strong audience included Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustav, senior members of Sweden’s royal family, scholars and officials. Normally, approximately 1,250 people attend.
Wrapping up the nearly 90-minute event, actress Lena Olin who hosted the ceremony said the 2021 laureates are “dedicated to truth in various forms — scientific knowledge, the human experience and the fundamental right of journalists to report facts.”
In Oslo, the day is to end with a torchlit procession from the city's Central Station to the Grand Hotel, where the Peace Prize laureates are to greet the parade from a balcony.