Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion writer for CNN, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
(CNN) – Like many of Maria Ressa’s former CNN colleagues, I have followed her career with admiration and with more than a little concern for her safety. The indomitable journalist has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.
When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was asked, shortly before taking the oath, what he would do with the high rate of murders of journalists, he declared: “Just because you are a journalist you are not exempt from murder, if you are a h ** de p * ** “. I was shocked by one of the bravest journalists I have ever met. But she kept going.
Ressa, a Filipina-American who spent nearly two decades at CNN, founded the online news organization Rappler in the Philippines in 2012. Since then, the Duterte government has done almost everything in its power to silence her and remove Rappler from the business.
Two journalists win the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize 1:18
But the most important thing everyone should know about their work is that it is about much more than the Philippines.
As she has pointed out the brutality of the Duterte government and faced a relentless legal campaign, which has included her repeated arrest (the government had filed 10 arrest warrants against her, she said there are seven legal cases still pending) Ressa has become a fighter for the right to do her job from journalists who report facts, which means that she is fighting for everyone’s right to know the truth.
He is now an icon in the campaign to defend democracy against autocrats who manipulate public opinion, misuse the legal system against perceived enemies, unleash hordes of social media supporters against his critics, who distort the truth and flood society with false news, accusing those who tell the truth of the lie.
Who are Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, the journalists who won the Nobel Peace Prize?
They are big lies and little lies, the kind familiar to many Americans now, designed to create a swamp of confusion to serve the purpose of the demagogue.
In other words, Ressa is fighting everyone’s fight.
I have been following his career and writing about his plight for years, through his arrests, the threats against him, and his growing profile on the world stage. I never saw her seek the limelight, but she has deservedly achieved fame. That’s not just because she’s good at her job, but because her struggle resonates within the great conflict of our time, the world’s drift toward autocracy, and the efforts of millions of people across the planet to save democracy.
A free press is an important part of that fight now more than ever.
According to Reporters Without Borders, journalism is “totally blocked or seriously hampered in 73 percent” of the 180 countries it occupies. This is a global battle, and Ressa, Muratov, and many other journalistic heroes are literally risking their lives to win it.
Nobel Peace Prize: meet the winners 1:32
For those of us who watched Ressa’s stubborn early years as a CNN international reporter, this is not surprising. She was the head of CNN’s Manila bureau, later head of the Jakarta bureau. She covered Asia with an intensity, integrity, and courage that foreshadowed her stature today. It is not an exaggeration to say that there was no dictator, no terrorist, no coup leader that she was afraid to upset. She understood the story, even if it enraged powerful and dangerous men.
Perhaps its diminutive size (it measures 1.57 cm) made it underestimated, a phenomenon that I have experienced. Maybe that’s why Duterte thought he could easily ignore her.
When he first came to power, he thought Rappler might be useful. A pioneer in the manipulation of social media, Duterte spoke with Rappler to reach the Facebook crowds. But then Rappler began reporting on Duterte’s cruel “war on drugs,” a campaign that human rights groups confirm has killed thousands of people without any semblance of due process. (To see how Duterte weaponized social media crowds to harass her, click on this investigation.)
The efforts of Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, are no less heroic. Muratov founded the newspaper with a group of journalists in 1993, and they have managed to continue their vital investigative work even as Vladimir Putin’s regime crushes others who speak the truth. Muratov told the TASS news agency that the award belongs to “those who died defending the people’s right to freedom of expression.”
Countries with the most journalists killed in retaliation for their work in 2020: Afghanistan, the Philippines and Mexico, according to CPJ
Some may question whether the battle for freedom of expression and for a free press belongs in the same category as the search for peace, the formal goal of the Nobel Peace Prize. The answer is an unequivocal yes.
Disinformation kills. Disinformation has started wars. Without journalism, without a clear distinction between facts and lies, we cannot hold people to account, we cannot gain the knowledge to protect ourselves against those who would sacrifice their countries and their people to gain, increase or maintain power. When the truth is inaccessible, freedom begins to fade and peace becomes elusive.
I am happy and grateful that my friend Maria Ressa has come so far.
Bravo, Maria and Dmitry! Bravo and thank you.
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OPINION | Maria Ressa’s Nobel Prize is for everyone – KVIA