Maria Ressa, a celebrated Filipino journalist and member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and  Russia journalism icon Dmitry Muratov have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for courageous efforts fighting for press freedom.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the two reporters’ “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace” and said the pair “are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.”

Ressa is a co-founder of the Filipino news site Rappler, which has won global praise for its fearless coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign, even as Ressa and her team of reporters have faced persistent threats and intimidation. Ressa was named an ICIJ member in 2020; Rappler was a partner on ICIJ’s Pandora Papers investigation released earlier this week.

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Muratov is  co-founder and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a fiercely independent Russian newspaper that has covered corruption, police violence, electoral fraud and the Russian military. Novaya Gazeta has collaborated on a number of ICIJ investigations  into offshore finance, including the Panama Papers of 2016 and the Paradise Papers the following year.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” the Nobel Committee said in awarding the 2021 prize. “Freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.”

The award comes at a time when news organizations are facing legal suppression and threats and acts of violence by authoritarian regimes and anti-democratic movements worldwide.

Ressa and Muratov have both been lauded for their work, awarded press freedom prizes internationally while facing constant legal challenges in their home countries.

As the Nobel Committee noted,  six Novaja Gazeta’s journalists have been killed, including the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. “Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” the committee wrote.

According to the Guardian, Muratov told the Telegram news channel Podyom that the win was unexpected.

“I saw a call from Norway, but I thought it was some unwanted call,” he said. “We will continue to represent Russian journalism, which is now being suppressed. That’s all. We will try to help people who are now labelled as ‘foreign agents’, who are being attacked and expelled from the country.”

In a live broadcast by Rappler, Ms Ressa said she was “in shock,” the BBC reported.

“On behalf of ICIJ, we’d like to offer both Maria and Dmitry our congratulations for this well-deserved honor,” Gerard Ryle, ICIJ’s director, said. “Their bravery has been a source of inspiration for so many, and we’re proud to have been able to work with both their news outlets on our global investigations. We hope that the Nobel Prize Committee’s decision to highlight the plight of reporters facing increasing press freedom challenges will prove a boon for journalists who risk their lives every day to expose corruption and wrongdoing.”

The pair were chosen from a pool of 329 candidates, which included a joint nomination of ICIJ and the Global Alliance for Tax Justice submitted by three Norwegian lawmakers.