Recognizing the growing repression of the media by governments

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, comes at a time of growing assaults on an independent press around the world, as authoritarian governments expand their reach and the slogan of ” fake news “is used to suppress dissenting opinions.

Ressa has faced several criminal charges for how his Rappler news site challenged the government of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. She and Muratov, whose newspaper Novaya Gazeta has been a persistent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, work under governments that use methods such as repressive legislation and arrests to muzzle criticism.

Last year, UNESCO and the Council of Europe published reports deploring the erosion of media freedom. They noted the growing number of police attacks on journalists covering protests, including intimidation and beatings, and the passing of “fake news” laws in countries ranging from Hungary to Russia. , which can be used to suppress legitimate journalism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 274 journalists were jailed in 2020, the highest number since 1992, and said that “the number of journalists targeted for murder in retaliation for their work more than doubled in 2020”. Prominent journalists murdered in recent years include Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and, this year, Peter de Vries in the Netherlands.

The V-Dem Institute, a Swedish organization that tracks democratic indicators, said in its 2020 report that “media censorship and repression of civil society” was “generally the first step” towards autocracy, and therefore ” an early warning signal ”.

He reported that in terms of media freedom, “32 countries are down substantially, down from just 19 just three years ago.”

Governments resort to outright censorship, harassment, intimidation and drastic downsizing of social media accounts or websites considered threats to national security. Rights groups say some countries have restricted reporting on COVID-19, as the pandemic has made reliable and independent sources of information more important than ever.

Leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Viktor Orban of Hungary followed the example of former President Donald Trump in discrediting the press by calling the unfavorable coverage “fake news”.

Announcing the award, Nobel Committee Chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen said: “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.

Rappler, the Philippine media organization co-founded by Ressa, has established itself as a beacon of independence, with fierce coverage of corruption and the government’s drug war that has claimed thousands of lives. Duterte warned that journalists “were not immune from assassination.” His government pulled the country’s largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, where Ressa once worked, off the air last year.

The Philippine Foreign Correspondents Association said in a statement that Ressa’s victory was “a victory for press freedom advocates in the Philippines, which remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.”

The group added that it hoped the prize “sends a signal that a free, unblocked and critical press is necessary for a healthy democracy.”

Across Asia, independent media have come under increasing pressure, sometimes forced to shut down.

China has stifled Hong Kong’s once-free press with a national security law imposed last year. In Myanmar, the military government that took power this year has arrested at least 98 journalists, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners; five were convicted of violating a law that criminalizes posting or broadcasting comments that “scare” or spread “false news,” according to Human Rights Watch.

This week, Singapore passed a law banning foreign influence on politics, which gives the government the power to demand that social media platforms disclose user data or remove posts deemed anti-government. Last month, the government suspended the license of The Online Citizen, an independent website offering social and political commentary, saying it broke rules requiring it to report its funding sources.

In India, watch groups say press freedom has been eroded under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has used legal threats and investigations to intimidate the media. This year, the government issued rules giving it broad power to remove digital content.

Muratov’s Nobel recognition comes amid the most intense crackdown on independent news media in Russian post-Soviet history.

This year, the Kremlin has aggressively used a law allowing it to designate individuals and groups as “foreign agents”, forcing news outlets and dissident groups to pay fines, issue disclosure requirements and expensive warnings, and even shut down. Major Russian-language news outlets like Meduza, TV Rain and Proekt have been declared “foreign agents” or banned outright in recent months, and investigative journalists have been forced into exile.

The editor-in-chief of the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, one of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, talks to reporters in Moscow on Friday. | REUTERS

Just hours after the announcement of the Peace Prize, the government applied the label to nine activists and journalists, including prominent Russian-language correspondents of the BBC and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, funded by the United States. United.

“The parliament does not represent all the people, it does not represent the minority with an alternative point of view,” Muratov said on Friday outside his newspaper’s office in Moscow. “The media represent them, and that’s exactly why, I think, these attacks on the Russian press are taking place. “

Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta is the largest independent media outlet yet to be declared a foreign agent. With extensive coverage of sensitive topics such as human rights violations in the Russian Chechen Republic and torture in prisons, the newspaper has many enemies.

Unlike many independent journalists, Muratov has sought to find ways to engage with the Kremlin. He attended a meeting of Russian editors with Putin this year, and the Kremlin’s chief spokesman congratulated him on Friday.

But Muratov became increasingly pessimistic about the future of political freedoms in Russia, where he said the powerful Federal Security Service – the KGB’s main successor agency – had taken over the management of domestic politics.

Russian analysts and journalists have speculated that it will only be a matter of time before Novaya Gazeta is banned or forced to shut down. But some critics were quick to say on Friday that the Nobel Prize could serve the Kremlin by allowing Putin to cite Novaya Gazeta as proof that free speech in Russia still exists.

– ROGER COHEN, SUI-LEE WEE and ANTON TROIANOVSKI

Six newspaper journalists lost their lives at work

During President Vladimir Putin’s tenure, six reporters from Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper Dmitry Muratov co-founded in 1993, were killed for their work. Most prominent was Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist who was shot and killed on October 7, 2006.

Politkovskaya, a vocal critic of Putin and his policies in the Chechen War, was shot dead in the elevator of his apartment building in Moscow. While a court convicted several men of the murder, authorities left the question of who organized it unanswered. Putin, speaking soon after his death, denied any role, saying Politkovskaya’s death created a bigger problem for Russia due to international criticism than his life and work as an investigative journalist.

Founded in 1993, Novaya Gazeta has grown into Russia’s foremost independent newspaper for social and political affairs. The newspaper has three main owners: the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who used the proceeds of his Nobel Peace Prize to fund the business; Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB agent turned banker and critic of the rise of a new police state; and the staff of the newspaper, who owns shares.

In one of the first murders, Yuri Shchekochikhin, investigative journalist and deputy, died of a mysterious and painful illness that caused the scaling of the epidermis, or top layer of the skin, in a rare symptom caused by some drug allergies, but what the Novaya Gazeta newspaper concluded in its own investigation was poisoning.

Shchekochikhin fell ill days before he planned to travel to the United States to share information with US law enforcement on suspicion of corruption and money laundering at a furniture importing company, The Three Whales, linked to the Federal Security Service, the KGB’s successor agency, strike a chord on an important trend in security services going into business. His autopsy results remain confidential.

In 2009, Russian nationalists shot dead another journalist for the newspaper, Anastasia Boburova, on a sidewalk in the capital with a human rights lawyer.

In another high-profile murder in 2009, human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and then killed. Estemirova cooperated with Novaya Gazeta to identify murders, torture and kidnappings in Chechnya and linked them to the head of the region, Ramzan Kadyrov. Estemirova continued this work even after Politkovskaya’s death in 2006, with whom she began her collaboration with the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

In recent years, the newspaper’s reporters have published articles investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine.

Their main war reporter, Pavel Kanygin, was kidnapped and beaten by separatists, but returned nonetheless for field reporting as part of the newspaper’s investigation into the downing of a civilian airliner in over Ukraine in 2014.

– ANDREW E. KRAMER

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