Silence and Low-Key Praise: How the Filipino, Russian Govts Reacted to Nobel Peace Prize

Two days after the announcement, there has still not been an official response from the office of President Duterte over Ressa's win. In Russia, the Kremlin spokesperson praised Muratov for his commitment to his ideals.

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New Delhi: The Nobel peace prize to Russian and Filipino journalists fighting for press freedom has received a mixed response from their respective governments, ranging from silence to muted praise.

Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have been awarded the 2021 Nobel peace prize for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia”.

Ressa is the co-founder of Rappler, an independent news website, which has done a series of investigative exposes on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs which saw indiscriminate killings of hundreds of people by security agencies.

Duterte has constantly referred to Rappler as a “fake news outlet”, even as Ressa was personally targeted with a slew of legal cases from government authorities.

Two days after the announcement in Oslo, there has still not been an official response from the office of President Duterte.

Secretary for foreign affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr is the only major administration official who has so far reacted to the news, but even then with a rider.

He congratulated Ressa, stating a “win is a win”. Then he added that former President Corazon Aquino was also a candidate for the Nobel prize due to restoring democracy after the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. He claimed that Ressa had “better supporters” than Aquino, who he claimed couldn’t be bothered to be a Nobel laureate.

Filipino vice president Leni Robredo, a political rival of Duterte, praised Ressa for her win. “Congratulations to @mariaressa for being awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize! This is a recognition and affirmation of your tireless efforts to hold the line for truth and accountability. I applaud your courage. Mabuhay ka (Cheers to you),” she tweeted.

In the Filipino system, presidents and vice-presidents are elected separately, and they can be from different parties, as with Duterte and Robredo. The vice-president had a testy relationship with Duterte, primarily due to her vocal criticism about his highly controversial ‘war on drugs’. Robredo recently announced that she will be running for president in the May 2022 elections.

In Russia, Muratov, editor-in-chief of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, is described by the international watchdog Committee for Protection of Journalists as the “only truly critical newspaper with national influence in Russia today”.

After the announcement, Muratov dedicated his award to six Novaya Gazeta journalists killed for their reporting.

The Russian journalist also added that Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader behind bars, should have received the Nobel prize.

Also read: Press Freedom Matters: Two Journalists – Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov – Win 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

On Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov praised Muratov for his commitment to ideals. “We congratulate Dmitry Muratov, he consistently works in line with his ideals, he is committed to [them]. He is talented and brave,” Peskov said.

When asked whether President Vladimir Putin planned to congratulate Muratov, the spokesperson added, “We have just learned about it, so give us a little time”.

During an interview to Ekho Moskvy radio channel, Muratov said that he hadn’t heard of the Kremlin response. When the host offered to read it to him, Muratov asked sardonically, “Should I rise?”.

To Peskov’s praise, he responded, “All the above is true”.

Muratov is the second Nobel laureate to be associated with Novaya Gazeta. The last Russian winner of the Nobel peace prize, Mikhail Gorbachev, donated some of his own prize money to help the newspaper financially.

“This award elevates the significance of the press in the modern world to a greater height,” Gorbachev wrote in a congratulatory note to Muratov, whom he called brave, honest and a friend, as per Reuters.

The roster of murdered colleagues that Muratov read out indicated the fraught path taken by the Russian newspaper in the past two decades.

Hours after the Nobel prize announcement that highlighted press freedom, Russia’s justice ministry designated nine journalists and three companies as “foreign agents”.

When designated as a ‘foreign agent’, individuals and entities must provide details of their activities and finances every six months. They also have to broadcast their designation as a ‘foreign agent’ with all their published material, including social media posts.

Muratov committed to supporting those who had been labelled with the designation by Moscow. “We will try to help people who have been designated as [foreign] agents, who are being hounded and forced out of Russia,” he said, according to BBC.