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Observer's Carole Cadwalladr warns of daily 'war on truth' on social media platforms as she collects press freedom prize

Carole Cadwalladr has warned that there is “a war on truth” happening every day on social media platforms, which she said are “impossible to hold to account”, as she collected a press freedom award last night.

The Observer journalist also said it was a “disgrace” the Government had not backed a call to bring Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg before MPs after he had rejected an invitation to come to the UK on four occasions.

Cadwalladr (pictured, second left) made the comments as she picked up the L’Esprit de RSF prize at the Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) Press Freedom Awards, which were held in London for the first time.

She won for her investigations into the “subversion of democratic processes in the US and UK” that exposed Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook users’ data to allegedly target them with political ads.

Other winners on the night included Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of murdered Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who has been following up on his mother’s stories since her death last October.

Receiving the Prize for Impact, he said: “It sounds like a terribly morbid idea, to continue a murdered journalist’s work, but really it’s the only thing that we can do.

“Instead of covering what happened as an event, continue that work of the journalist – that’s so important.”

Caruana Galizia (pictured, right) previously worked at the Pulitzer Prize-winning International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, where he co-founded its data and research unit.

The Prize for Courage was awarded to Swati Chaturvedi, who has written about trolls targeting journalists in India.

The Prize for Independence went to Inday Espina-Varona (pictured, centre) from the Philippines “for her extensive reporting on sensitive issues” and her work on the Filipino equivalent of the #MeToo movement.

In accepting her prize at a packed Getty Images Gallery in central London, Cadwalladr said: “I feel hugely embarrassed just seeing those journalists up here who are working in such hostile environments and doing such excellent work and it’s ridiculous that sitting in my London flat I’m considered in any part on the same level.”

She added: “Actually, our press is under attack here and to have a platform to be able to say that and shout about it a bit I feel really honoured. It is under attack… in exactly the same way as we see it under attack in America.

“There is a war on truth and it is happening every single day on the platforms that we use and those platforms are impossible to hold to account.”

Cadwalladr said “we see authoritarianism all over the world attacking press freedom”, but warned: “It is now happening here.”

Cadwalladr’s work, which she shared with Channel 4 News and the New York Times, brought Facebook founder and chief executive Zuckerberg before US Congress earlier this year.

He is currently facing calls to appear before a grand committee on “fake news” made up of UK and Canadian parliamentarians.

Cambridge Analytica closed down this year, citing a “media siege”.

Observer editor Paul Webster said: “Carole’s persistence – in the face of legal threats and a tidal wave of trolling and abuse by those she is reporting on – has been remarkable.

“Her investigations have shone a light on one of the most important issues of our time: the emerging threat to our democratic processes.”

Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK bureau director, said “The jury overwhelmingly voted for Carole Cadwalladr, who truly represents the spirit of RSF in the UK.

“Her reporting on interference in the Brexit campaign here in the UK and the Trump campaign in the US has underscored the vital importance of our democratic institutions, and the need to protect them – including the media itself.

“The severe backlash she continues to face is a testament to the impact of her reporting, and we are proud to honour her with this special new award.”

Also nominated for the L’Esprit de RSF prize was the FT’s Madison Marriage for her scoop exposing alleged sexual harassment at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, investigative journalism network The Bureau Local, and the BBC and the Guardian for their joint work on the Paradise Papers.

Hosting the awards, Channel 4 News international editor Lindsey Hilsum (pictured, second right) said 2018 is “set to be the among the deadliest years” for journalists and media workers with 78 killed so far.

Hilsum, who has just written a book about her friend and murdered war reporter Marie Colvin, said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Press freedom must always be defended.”

Picture: RSF

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