Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, Filipino journalist Maria Ressa launched a virulent attack against the American technological giants, guilty according to her of letting a « toxic sludge » spill onto social networks out of greed.
Co-founder of the news website Rappler, Ms. Ressa received the prestigious award at Oslo City Hall together with the Russian Dmitri Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a rare independent newspaper in a media landscape largely controlled in Russia.
« American Internet companies »
In front of a small audience, Covid obliges, the 58-year-old Filipino journalist attacked « American internet companies » such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, without explicitly naming them. « With its almost divine power, » she said, their technology « has allowed the virus of lies to infect each of us, turning us against each other, bringing out our fears, anger and hatred, and paving the way for the rise of authoritarian leaders and dictators. »
« Transforming this hatred and violence »
« Our greatest need today is to transform this hate and violence, the toxic sludge that runs through our information ecosystem, favored by American internet companies that make more money as they spread this hate and unleash the worst in us, » she said.
« They divide us and radicalize us. »
As members of the Norwegian royal family looked on, protected by health masks, Ms. Ressa stressed the importance of reliable information in times of pandemics or elections such as those coming up next year in the Philippines, but also in France, the United States or Hungary. « These American companies (…) are angry with the facts, angry with journalists. By nature, they divide us and radicalize us, » she said.
Targeted by seven lawsuits
At the helm of Rappler, a website highly critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Ms. Ressa is the subject of seven lawsuits in her country that could, according to her, earn her a total of a hundred years in prison. Convicted of defamation last year but on parole, she was forced to ask four courts for permission to pick up her Nobel.
« May journalists die old »
Her 60-year-old co-winner, Muratov, held a moment of silence for reporters killed in the line of duty. « I want journalists to die old, » he proclaimed. Known for its investigations into corruption and human rights abuses in Chechnya, Novaya Gazeta has had six of its staff members killed since the 1990s, including famed journalist Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in 2006.
« Journalism in Russia is going through a dark period »
« Journalism in Russia is going through a dark period, » the editor stressed, referring to the hundred or so journalists, media outlets, human rights activists and NGOs classified as « agents of foreigners » by the Russian Ministry of Justice. Supposed to target those who receive « foreign funding » and carry out « political activity », the status of « foreign agent » is often attributed to critics of the Kremlin, a designation that greatly complicates their activity.
Vladimir Putin’s warning
Although he will accept half of the 10 million kroner (975,000 euros) Nobel check and Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the prize is not a « shield, » Muratov said he is confident he will escape this infamous status. « I think that in the 30 years of our newspaper’s existence, we have done so many positive things for the country that declaring us ‘agents of foreigners’ would be harmful to the power of our country » and « would be something stupid, » he said in an interview with AFP.
1,636 journalists killed in past 20 years
As of December 1, at least 1,636 journalists had been killed around the world in the past 20 years, according to a report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), including 46 since the beginning of the year. In addition, with 293 reporters behind bars, the number of journalists imprisoned in the world has never been so high, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). « Reporting information to the public can in itself prevent war, » said the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen. « The role of the press is to lift the veil on aggression and abuse of power, and thus contribute to peace.
2020 Laureates and other Nobel Prize winners
The Oslo ceremony also saw the head of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, give the acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize awarded last year to the UN humanitarian agency. In 2020, the festivities had been cancelled due to the pandemic. For the same reasons, the winners of the other 2021 Nobel prizes (medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics), usually awarded in Stockholm, have already received them all this week in their home countries. However, a ceremony in their honor is organized in the Swedish capital, in the presence of the royal family.