Reaction was quickly rolling in to this year’s choice of journalists as winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, and it was highly favourable. Outgoing Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg called journalism “the most powerful protection we have for democracy,” while her incoming successor Jonas Gahr Støre was among those nominating international journalism organizations and even one of the journalists who actually won.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee must represent the political make-up of Norway’s Parliament, under the terms of prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will, but the committee operates both independently and secretly. Their deliberations are never shared or made public until 50 years after a prize is awarded. Solberg was even careful to stress on national TV before this year’s prize was awarded that the five-member Nobel Committee “is completely alone” in settling on its decisions.
Norwegian politicians traditionally comment on Peace Prize selections, since they’re made in Norway. They’ve become more careful, though, ever since embarrassed Chinese officials, furious over a Peace Prize to one of their leading dissidents in 2010, refused to distinguish the Norwegian Nobel Committee from the Norwegian government and launched a highly controversial diplomatic freeze against Norway that didn’t end until 2016.
Prime Minister Solberg nonetheless congratulated the journalist winners Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia on behalf of the Norwegian government.
“This prize is a declaration of support for journalists and press people all over the world,” Solberg said “Many of them work at the risk of endangering their own lives.” Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, also stressed how “factual and critical journalism” can protect the public against conspiracy theories and incorrect information, while also protecting democracy. Her praise came after a period of rising tension between Norway and Russia, and a statement just this week from NATO’s Norwegian secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, that relations with an increasingly authoritarian Russia are at “their lowest point” since the Cold War.
All Members of Parliament in Norway are among those allowed to nominate candidates for the Peace Prize, as are members of other national assemblies worldwide. Støre, leader of the Norwegian Labour Party and currently involved in negotiations to form a new left-center government, had nominated both Ressa and the organizations Reporters Without Borders and The Committee to Protect Journalists. He was predictably pleased by Friday’s announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize winners.
“This is very, very good news,” Støre told reporters during a break in the government negotiations at the Hurdalsjøen Hotel north of Oslo. “These are two individuals with an extreme amount of courage. With their own lives in danger, they carry out work that’s of great importance for democracy.”
Støre, expected to become Norway’s new prime minister next week, noted how independent and investigative journalism is in danger itself: “Journalists are killed on the job, only because they’re in search of the truth.” He also claimed that “Maria Ressa’s voice is heard far beyond the Philippines.” He said he’d specifically nominated her because she does such an important job: “Through her job and the network to which she belongs, she works in an authoritarian regime in which the president in a live interview with her has said he can kill her. Yet she carries on with her work.”
There was no immediate reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize announcement from the Philippines government. Officials at the Kremlin in Moscow, which has frequently come under the glare of Novaja Gazeta and its editor Muratov, were quick, however, to congratulate Muratov in what many view as a defensive move. A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement that “we congratulate him. He is well-informed and brave.”
‘Shock’ and gratitude
Both Ressa and Muratov expressed surprise, gratitude and joy upon learning that they’ll share this year’s Peace Prize. “I’m in shock,” Ressa told Norway’s TV2, adding that “this is emotional, but I’m glad on behalf of my team, and thank the committee for recognizing our work.”
Muratov quickly told Novaja Gazeta that the prize will be dedicated to its six journalists who’ve been killed during the course of their work. Part of the prize money will also be donated towards helping children with rare diseases.
“We are very honoured,” Nadia Ruskienkova, currently a leader at Novaja Gazeta, told NRK. “We had voted for (jailed opposition leader Alexander) Navalny getting the prize. Muratov is almost a bit embarrassed over winning this, but of course thinks it’s a great honor to be on the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners.”
She added that the prize memorializes “our murdered colleagues. They were brave. We will continue their work.”
It remained unclear whether there will be a traditional Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in the Oslo City Hall again this year. It was cancelled by the Corona crisis last year, but since Norway has recently reopened, it’s become more likely a ceremony will be held on December 10th as normal, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. An announcement is due in mid-October.