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Maria Ressa first Filipino awarded Nobel Prize: Lacson renews call to decriminalize libel

Journalists Maria Ressa, of the Philippines, and Dmitry Muratov, of Russia, have won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, cited “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression”, which the prize-giving committee described as being under threat worldwide The two were awarded “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said on Friday. “At the same time, they 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,” she told a news conference in Norway’s capital, Oslo. The prize is the first for journalists since German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935 for revealing his country’s secret post-war rearmament program. “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” Reiss-Andersen said. Ressa, who founded investigative journalism website Rappler, has focused much of her work on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial and violent war on drugs. She and Rappler “have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse,” the Nobel committee noted. “I’m a little shocked. It’s really emotional,” Ressa said after learning of the award. “Journalism has never been as important as it is today,” she said, adding that journalists had “lost our gatekeeping powers to technology platforms” and called for nations to come together to stop the rise of misinformation. She also said that despite her news website being under “the possibility of shutdown on a daily basis” she continues striving for fact-finding journalism. Critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. had been convicted with cyberlibel in a decision seen as a major blow to press global freedom. She was the first woman awarded a Nobel this year. “If you keep the North Star ahead of you, you protect the facts, you hold power to account. You exercise the rights that is in the Philippine Constitution. That’s what we did, and that’s what we’ll keep doing,” Ressa said. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 17 media workers were killed in the Philippines in the last decade and 23 in Russia. The award is accompanied by a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.1m). The prize money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896. Decriminalize libel “Ms. Maria Ressa deserves our congratulations for being one of the awardees of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – the first Filipino to have this distinction,” lauded Senator Panfilo M. Lacson in a congratulatory statement posted in his website pinglacson.net. “But more than the prestige that comes with the award, is the responsibility of continuing to uphold the freedom of expression – the reason for the award.” “It is hoped that the Nobel Peace Prize will further inspire the responsible practice of journalism for the good of all,” Lacson added. Lacson supports the call to decriminalize libel since “information technology has become borderless.” “Ako supportive to decriminalize libel. Borderless na ang ating information technology (I am supportive of moves to decriminalize libel, as our information technology has become borderless),” Lacson said. Lacson made the statement following black propaganda attacks against him. For instance, he said prior to his filing of certificate of candidacy for president there have been fake news circulating on social media that he had withdrawn or is withdrawing from the race and a rigged mobile presidentiable ‘text’ survey that excluded his name from the list of choices. He said he has been at the receiving end of black propaganda since his first term as senator in 2001 during the Arroyo administration. During this time, Lacson was forced to file libel to protect his dignity. Recently, he said a media personality was approached to destroy him.
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