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Two investigative journalists were awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee handed out the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday to two investigative journalists, one from the Philippines, one from Russia. And in their acceptance speeches, they criticized social media companies for spreading disinformation and warned about the growing spread of authoritarianism. Here's Maria Ressa, of course, who is CEO of Rappler, a Manila-based website.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIA RESSA: If you're working in tech, I'm talking to you. How can you have election integrity if you don't have integrity of facts?

SIMON: NPR's Frank Langfitt was at the ceremony in Oslo City Hall and joins us. Frank, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Great to be here, Scott.

SIMON: It's been decades since the Nobel Peace Prize went to journalists. Did you get a sense for why the Nobel Committee thought it was important this year?

LANGFITT: Yeah. They were pretty explicit about it. I think they're making a statement about the link between fact-based reporting and informed citizenry in elections. And I think their thought is everything really hinges on accurate information. And without it, it's hard to maintain an effective democracy. Both journalists have personal experience with this. Rappler exposed a murderous government war on drugs in the Philippines. And then government supporters, they attacked the news site online with this massive disinformation campaign. This is how Ressa described it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RESSA: The attacks against us in Rappler began five years ago when we demanded an end to impunity on two fronts - Rodrigo Duterte's drug war and Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook. Today, it has only gotten worse. And Silicon Valley sins came home to roost in the United States on January 6, with mob violence on Capitol Hill. What happens on social media doesn't stay on social media. Online violence is real-world violence.

SIMON: The second journalist was Dmitry Muratov, who's the editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where a number of journalists have been murdered because of their work. What did he say?

LANGFITT: He was really focused on how important investigative journalism is these days and how it exposes important information that citizens need to know. And he used a recent example of how reporters were able to dig and dig and find out that flights from the Middle East to Belarus more than quadrupled this fall, and it exposed how Belarus was actually recruiting refugees and then threatening to push them into Poland to destabilize Europe. And what he also said is that even as investigative journalism has become more dangerous, it's that much more important for people to get really - you know, dig and dig and get out the story. This is how he put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMITRY MURATOV: (Through interpreter) As the great war photographer Robert Capa said, if your picture isn't good enough, you are not close enough.

SIMON: Frank, I want to draw you out a little bit about Maria Ressa because I just learned today you went to college together...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

SIMON: ...And have known her over the years. And tell us, if you can, about the person you've known and how her thinking has changed.

LANGFITT: Yeah. I mean, Maria's, even long before she got this award, sort of a remarkable person. And what I've found is she's always seemed to be, Scott, about several years ahead of the rest of us in the way things are going in our industry and in information and politics.

I'll give you an example. When she was forming Rappler in 2012, we were having a conversation over dinner where she was explaining how big data was going to be so helpful financially to support news organizations. I remember seeing her at college reunions doing Facebook Lives. And then it wasn't too much long after that that these government supporters used things like Facebook to attack Rappler and attack her. She's now facing a lot of legal cases, weaponization of the law in the Philippines. I've often thought of Marie and Rappler sort of as the canary in the coal mine of disinformation - one of the reasons, also, it's really good to listen to her, because she always seems to be a few steps ahead.

SIMON: Important more than ever. NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.