The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitri Muratov, comes at a time of growing assaults on a free press across the world, as authoritarian governments extend their reach and the slogan of “fake news” is used to suppress dissenting views. Ms. Ressa has faced multiple criminal charges for the way her news website Rappler has challenged the rule of President Rodrigo Duterte. Both she and Mr. Muratov, whose Novaya Gazeta newspaper has been a persistent critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, work under governments that use a range of methods — from repressive legislation to arrests — to muzzle criticism. Last year, both UNESCO and the Council of Europe issued reports deploring the erosion of media freedom. They noted growing police attacks on journalists covering protests, including intimidation and beatings, and the passing of so-called “fake news” laws in countries from Hungary to Russia that can be used to repress legitimate journalism.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 274 journalists were imprisoned in 2020, the highest rate since 1992, and said “the number of journalists singled out for murder in reprisal for their work more than doubled in 2020.” The V-Dem Institute, a Swedish organization that tracks democratic indicators, said in their 2020 report that “media censorship and the repression of civil society” were “typically the first move in a gradual process” of moving toward autocracy and so “an early warning signal for what might yet be to come.” The Committee to Protect Journalists has noted that authoritarian governments have repeatedly taken cover in “anti-press rhetoric from the United States.”