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Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov: Working with the Nobel Peace Prize winners

IDBS ART GALLERY

Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their fights to defend freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.

Both are known for investigations that have angered their countries’ rulers and both have faced threats as a result of this.

Here, BBC journalists who have worked with the pair share their experiences.

An editor who knows how to strike a balance

By Olga Prosvirova, BBC Russian

Dmitry Muratov’s personality is complex and at times contradictory. Over the years we’ve worked together, I’ve seen him squabble with his best correspondents one day, then save them from an extremely dangerous situation while they were covering a storey the next.

Dmitry’s contribution to the development of Russian journalism cannot be overstated. He assembled a one-of-a-kind team of journalists at an organisation that has long been regarded as Russia’s main independent media outlet.

Novaya Gazeta was involved in the Panama Papers investigation, discovered evidence of Russian military presence in Donbas, and investigated extrajudicial executions in Chechnya.

Journalists were persecuted, kidnapped, and, in some cases, murdered.

Journalists from other news organisations have asked Dmitry, “Why haven’t you been shut down yet?”

“It’s not me you have to ask,” he responded.

Dmitry Muratov is known for generating bright and radical ideas

Dmitry is a newspaper editor who understands how to strike a balance between telling hard-hitting stories and not antagonising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration. This delicate balance is difficult to maintain, but it has allowed his journalists to make a significant impact over the years.

Novaya Gazeta was never a place to make a lot of money; salaries were lower than at many other media outlets on the market. Despite this, many journalists have remained for years, if not decades.

Dmitry’s ability to turn the team into a family is responsible for their dedication. I recall people staying late at work, and when we saw each other the next morning, we didn’t say hello because it felt like we hadn’t parted and were still sharing a home.

Dmitry was constantly coming up with innovative and daring ideas. We’d be in the office, each working on a storey, when he’d rush in and say, “Let’s start gathering signatures against the Dima Yakovlev Law (a law that limited Westerners’ rights to adopt children in Russia)!” We would drop everything and begin gathering signatures and testimonies, amassing a box of documents in a single day to present to the presidential administration in order to challenge this law.

He was always willing to assist with any personal problems or issues. If a family member became ill, he would assist in locating the best doctors or a bed at a reputable hospital.

For him, anyone leaving the paper was a painful experience. He would view it as a family member leaving a home and struggle to accept it.

Standing by her principles against a campaign of abuse

By Jonathan Head, BBC South East Asia correspondent

Maria Ressa has faced a distressing and almost certainly coordinated campaign of online abuse, a barrage of criminal lawsuits that human rights groups believe amounts to state-sponsored harassment, and the open hostility of the Philippines’ Duterte administration.

The president’s supporters have labelled her, as well as other journalists who have criticised him, as “presstitutes.”

Her Nobel Peace Prize has President Duterte and his officials perplexed; how should they respond to the first Filipino to receive the prestigious award?

Maria Ressa founded the Rappler news site in 2012

When Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, the generals who ruled Myanmar might have been asked a similar question. But because they were so cut off from the rest of the world, no one expected them to respond.

The Philippines, on the other hand, is a global nation, with a sizable proportion of its population living abroad. Its people care about how they are perceived, and they will not easily dismiss a Nobel Peace Prize, even if they do not support Ms Ressa.

Remember the awkward situation the government found itself in in July, when weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who had also been attacked by Duterte’s supporters, won the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal.

When the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Ximenes Belo for their campaign against human rights violations by Indonesian security forces in East Timor in 1996, Maria and I were both based in Jakarta as reporters.

Bishop Belo was, in the eyes of the Jakarta government, an Indonesian citizen, and thus, like Maria, the country’s first Nobel laureate.

President Suharto chose to pretend the award never happened during a visit to the occupied territory shortly after it was given; he shook hands with Bishop Belo but made no mention of the award. However, it had a catalysing effect. Indonesia abandoned East Timor in less than three years, allowing it to become an independent nation, something few believed was possible in 1996.

Maria for CNN, and I for the BBC, covered the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998. The internet was in its infancy at the time, and the role of the media in publicising the yearning for change felt by many Indonesians could only be challenged by the authorities with the most crude methods – usually simply barring us access to places where events embarrassing to the government had occurred. Before the advent of organised disinformation on social media, those were indeed innocent days.

Maria’s decision to found the online news site Rappler in 2012, when she was already a senior journalist at what was then the top Philippines television station ABS-CBN, was motivated by her understanding of how technology would transform the news business in South East Asia, where media changes were lagging behind those seen in Europe and the United States. Rappler did not set out to criticise the Duterte administration; in fact, its coverage of his election victory in 2016 was unusually balanced.

But it was Maria’s recognition – and reporting – of the Duterte campaign’s extraordinarily successful social media manipulation that set her on a collision course with the president. Rappler’s brave coverage of the brutal anti-drug campaign appeared to place the new media group squarely in the camp of the president’s detractors.

The Nobel Committee made some dubious decisions. But, however uncomfortable it may be for President Duterte, it is difficult to argue with the award given to Maria Ressa.

No journalist is perfect, and news reporting can and should be judged critically, but Maria has stood firm in the face of an intimidating campaign of abuse.

The prize she has just won just might make her life a little easier.

SourceBBC
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