Investigative journalists Maria Russa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work promoting freedom of expression. Ms. Resa, who is also a US citizen, is the co-founder of Rapper, a digital media company for investigative journalism. Mr. Muratov is the co-founder of Russia’s leading independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. NB spoke to Ms. Resa about winning the Nobel Peace Prize and her work.
NB: What an exciting day today for journalists around the world. The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists Maria Russa and Dmitry Muratov for their work protecting freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. But Maria, first of all, congratulations. Has it sunk yet?
Maria Russa: I think it’s just starting, it’s a crazy manic period that has gone up and down incredibly well before. And then stunning. And then it just goes back to you. Overall the past few years have been so tough and now, hopefully, more energy for the future.
NB: Absolutely. And, Maria, your fight has been witnessed by so many journalists around the world and is still being lived today by so many journalists around the world, as we speak, by you and Dmitry and many others. It’s amazing what the Nobel committee actually said it actually represented a role model for all those journalists. What will you say?
Maria Russa: I think this is something that journalists like me, like Dmitry, like many people in India, were confused. Correct. Women, in particular, are at least 10 times more often attacked online in the Philippines. The way news organizations have lost our gatekeeping powers to technology platforms that have made facts available permeates our society. So I think it is a recognition of the importance of facts in any shared reality to find solutions and facts. With journalists holding that line. It recognizes not only how difficult it has been to continue what we used to do, the task of taking power into account, but at the same time, I think we’ll have more energy to try to craft in the years to come. .
NB: Correct. And, Maria, you just said that because we talk in India too. And of course, at NB, we identify with some of them because you only see government agencies going after journalist organizations, when you see funding methods have stopped. When you see government agencies doing tax raids and you are also convicted for defamation, you face a prison sentence, you actually went to jail, only to be released on bail. There are many ways to attack people. Media houses, organizations speak truth to power. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to maintain.
Maria Russa: Well, the first thing we look at is how the US social media platform has actually been used. Their vulnerabilities, algorithms are used to attack those who tell the truth. And once you dilute the facts, it creates an enabling environment where journalists trying to come to power with the law in my case are attacked and attacked. Look, the Philippine government filed 10 arrest warrants against me in less than two years. I spent more time with lawyers than managing rappers. here’s the thing. When I was convicted of cyber libel last year, I was convicted in 2012 for a story that I did not write, edit or supervise at a time when the law I violated actually existed. It was not. This is a time where power is consolidating power, where news platforms, social media platforms have become behavior modification systems that actually change people’s beliefs. That is why in many ways the journalists are on a sharp stand. Our reputation is under attack. Trust is under attack. And the same platforms where we are being attacked are also taking away our business model, advertising dollars. So this is an existential moment. And I think what the Nobel committee did was to show that without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you cannot be trusted. If you don’t have any of these, you can’t have a functioning democracy, try to solve the complex problems we’re dealing with in the world today, like the coronavirus, so this information problem, the anti- – Wax issues, conspiracy theories that or climate change come through. This is a problem whose scope is global.
NB: Indeed and without freedom of expression. I mean, it sounds like such a simple concept, but in reality, freedom of expression, the fight for it, is rewarded as a fight. There is a global fight for peace and for democracy, I think it is very important too. And you, of course, Maria has not taken the President of the Philippines personally. What he is saying, drugs scams, corruption issues, misogyny. Sometimes when you encounter a president of a state, especially one who is often authoritarian or very popular with almost cult-like people, it is seen as anti-national. This word is very popular in India. It is being seen as a traitor. It is seen that you are against the country instead of the government. How have we come to this point where you have said that you know, perhaps at one point, journalists themselves as truth-tellers are now under scrutiny because the enemies of the state are anti-nationals.
Maria Russa: I think it’s part of the way we are being attacked, for doing our job, for being in power, for being irrelevant. Correct. And he’s tearing down, shooting the messenger, if you will. The problem, of course, is that it’s also a form of gaslighting, which we attack because we’re trying to do our job and calling us anti-national. For example, President Duterte said in his State of the Nation address that the rapper was owned by Americans. it is not true. And yet when it comes out of the President’s mouth, you expect it to be true. That’s another problem, isn’t it? And then, it connects back to our information ecosystem. We are in a different world when you make facts a matter of debate and instead of being held accountable, power can lie. And I think part of what the choices of the Nobel Committee showed is that journalists like us will continue to try to hold the line, keep trying to take power, taking coercive power into account. Then it becomes even more difficult to do so. And along with Dmitry, I hope we stand up for all the journalists around the world who are doing their best to keep power under control.
NB: Absolutely. And I think that’s really something that’s trying our best. I mean, journalists are doing their best, in extremely challenging circumstances. Your victory and Dmitry’s victory have given us all on any TV and many of our counterparts many, many hopes. But just tell me, Maria, have you ever wondered, especially in the last five or six years, when you decided to set up your own investigative journalism website? And when you received death threats and at that time what did you say about women journalists? Because I think the kind of abuse we face is something that is specifically targeted and that male journalists face very often. Have you ever thought that the time has come for you to do something else?
Maria Russa: No, and this is insane. As I got older, Rapel came under government attack. This is my 35th year as a journalist. And so when we were attacked, my co-founder and I, we already knew why we were doing what we were doing. And we understood the mission of journalism. So in the beginning it felt like it was in disbelief that the government would try to do these things, try to file cases against us, try to call us foreign influences. And yet, as we move forward, you have no choice but to continue to challenge these things. And you realize that the mission of journalism today is more important than ever. And like on January 20, when the government tried to shut us down by taking away our license to operate, we challenged it in court. We continued operating. And it actually gave our small company or about 100 journalists, 63 percent of young women, an average age of 23 years old. So I gave my small company a real mission, it made it come alive. You don’t know who you are until you’re actually forced to fight for it. And in that sense, in some ways, I can almost say that we know who we are. We will continue to hold the line. And now, as we head towards the presidential election in May 2022, it marks the end of President Duterte’s six-year term. I think we are at the moment where we must make sure that we keep democracy alive, that we put aside our failing institutions, because in the end, we get the democracy we deserve.
NB: Well, Maria is an inspiration to all of us at NB and journalists across the world. Two very brave journalists, Maria Russa and Dmitry Muratov, are being awarded the Nobel. Thank you so much for joining me on TV tonight. Thank you.