Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,’ says Norway’s Nobel committee.

Journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa have been awarded the Nobel peace prize 2021 (AFP/Getty)

The Nobel peace prize has been awarded to journalists Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa.

The pair, whose work has angered the rulers of Russia and the Philippines, were commended for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression”.

Announcing the winners in Oslo on Friday, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, 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, disarmament, and a better world order to succeed in our time.”

Mr Muratov was one of the founders of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993.

He 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.

Ms Ressa is a leading reporter in the Philippines who co-founded Rappler, a news website that has focused “critical attention on the (president Rodrigo) Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign”, the Nobel committee said.

She and Rappler have also documented “how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse”.

The Nobel committee said Novaya Gazeta had a “fundamentally critical attitude towards power”, adding: “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.”

Mr Muratov dedicated his award to six contributors to his newspaper who had been murdered for their work exposing human rights violations and corruption.

Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, attends a planning meeting with the editorial board in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

“Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova – these are the people who have today won the Nobel prize,” he said, reciting the names of the slain reporters and activists, whose portraits hang in the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters.

Russian journalists have faced an increasingly difficult environment in recent years, with many being forced to register as agents of the state.

Mr Muratov told journalism website Podyom: We will leverage this prize in the interests of Russian journalism, which (the authorities) are now trying to repress.

“We will try to help people who have been recognised as agents, who are now being treated like dirt and being exiled from the country.”

Alexander Lebedev, the former publisher and a present shareholder of Novaya Gazeta, congratulated Mr Muratov on his high-profile recognition.

Mr Lebedev, father of Evgeny Lebedev, a major shareholder in The Independent, said: “This is the highest international award one can get, personally and as a newspaper.

“It is testimony to the honest service to one’s country that has been shown and achieved through the newspaper’s commitment to reportage, its support of human rights, the fight against corruption and the challenging of amorality.

“It must not be forgotten that a huge price has been paid for these principles and this award – tragically, it has been paid for in lost journalists’ lives.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov hailed Mr Muratov as a “talented and brave” person, while Nadezhda Prusenkova, a journalist at Novaya Gazeta, said staff were surprised and delighted.

“We’re shocked. We didn’t know,” she said, adding: “Of course we’re happy and this is really cool.”

Rappler editor Maria Ressa reacts on hearing that she has been awarded the Nobel peace prize (Rappler via AP)

Ms Ressa is the first winner from the Philippines of a Nobel prize in any field. Rappler has grown prominent through its investigative reporting, including into large scale killings during a police campaign against drugs.

In August, a court in the Philippines dismissed a libel case against Ms Ressa – one of several lawsuits filed against the journalist – who says she has been targeted because of her news site’s critical reports regarding president Rodrigo Duterte.

The plight of Ms Ressa, who was 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 organisations in the Philippines, a country once seen as a standard-bearer for press freedom in Asia.

Reacting to the announcement, Ms Ressa told Norway’s TV2 channel: “The government [of the Philippines] will obviously not be happy.”

“I’m a little shocked. It’s really emotional,” she added. “But I am happy on behalf of my team, and would like to thank the Nobel committee for recognising what we are going through.”

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders celebrated Friday’s announcement, expressing “joy and urgency.”

“Joy because this is an extraordinary tribute to journalism, an excellent tribute to all journalists who take risks everywhere around the world to defend the right to information,” the group’s director Christophe Deloire said from its Paris headquarters. “And also urgency, because it will be a decisive decade for journalism. Journalism is in danger, journalism is weakened, journalism is threatened. Democracies are weakened by disinformation, by rumours, by hate speech.”

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.

Some critics have questioned whether the award respects Nobel’s will, and the original purpose of the prize – to help prevent war – but Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said it was justified.

“Freedom of expression is a part of democracy, and democratic systems are proven to be more stable, less likely to go to war with each other, less likely to experience civil war,” he said.

Ms Reiss-Andersen noted that the peace prize had gone to journalists before, including Ernesto Teodoro Moneta of Italy in 1907, for promoting pacifism, and Carl von Ossietzky of Germany in 1935, after he revealed that the Nazi regime was secretly re-arming in breach of the First World War peace accord.