Filipino journalist receives Nobel Peace Prize, just as the number of imprisoned journalists is breaking records

A minute of silence was observed Friday in memory of slain journalists during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall in Norway. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

On 10 December, Maria Ressa from the Philippines was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize during a pomp-filled ceremony in Oslo, Norway. 

She was awarded the prize together with Russian Dmitry Muratov and the two journalists share this year’s prize for their work to ensure freedom of expression in countries where free speech has difficult conditions.

TV2 writes that perhaps there is a particularly good reason this year to pay tribute to journalists for continuing to do critical journalism despite threats and harassment. Because a new report shows that the risks many of the world’s journalists endure by going to work have never been greater.

According to the organization Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is behind the report, right now there are exactly 293 imprisoned journalists which is the highest number recorded to date. In addition, at least 24 journalists were killed as a result of their coverage this year.

Currently, the situation is the worst in China where at the time of writing there are 50 journalists behind bars. According to CPJ, it’s a well-known problem because it is the third year in a row that China tops the list of countries that imprison the most journalists. 

What is new, however, is that among the 50 journalists, there are 8 from Hong Kong. It is a consequence of the so-called security law, which was introduced by the Chinese parliament in 2020. The law prohibits acts that can be interpreted as “treason” against the Chinese authorities, and it was responsible for several arrests of journalists at the now-closed government-critical newspaper Apple Daily.

Second, on the list is Myanmar where at the time of writing there are 26 imprisoned journalists. Vietnam is fourth on the list with 23 imprisoned journalists. 

In the Philippines, there is one journalist imprisoned but Filipino radio journalist Renante Cortes was killed in July this year. He was known for having his own political news program, and according to a local police inspector, his program often brought him into conflict with political personalities.

Nobel laureate Maria Ressa works for the English-language online newspaper The Rappler and her involvement in that, according to her own newspaper, has also led to numerous arrests and political harassment by President Rodrigo Duterte’s government in the Philippines. 

She is the first person from the Philippines to win the Nobel Peace Prize and during the ceremony at Oslo City Hall she said, “We need to help independent journalism survive, first by giving greater protection to journalists and standing up against states which target journalists.” 

If you look at the Nordic, the conditions journalists work in are completely different. Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are the top four countries where press freedom is greatest, according to an annual index made by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Attacks on journalists, however, are not just a phenomenon that belongs outside the EU’s borders. The European Commission earlier this year called on the governments of the countries to ensure the protection of media people against physical and online attacks, The Guardian writes. The call came after the commission estimated that 908 media people were attacked in 23 different EU countries by 2020.

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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