For any democracy to progress, citizens need to be empowered to exercise their right to freedom of expression. This very constitutional right not only holds governments responsible for their actions but also helps in exposing the rotten system that often holds back a nation’s progress. And if this right is upheld by news media organizations, then free and fair media can bring the change people deserve. Keeping this very idea at the centre of their work, journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia have been successful in exposing fake news and government-led propaganda, among other things, in their respective countries. On Friday, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, announced that Ressa and Muratov will be awarded the prestigious 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their fight for the freedom of expression.
Andersen said that “free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.” Both the journalists, hailing from countries that lean towards a high-capacity authoritarian states despite their democratic setups, have been able to act as a catalyst in practicing objective journalism. Fifty-eight-year-old Resse had co-founded an independent news website called Rappler that had drawn attention to President Rodrigo Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The website had also unveiled how social media was being used to “spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.” The timing of this award comes at a time when Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen had gone public with the findings that allegedly revealed that the social media giant knew its products were fueling hate and harming children’s mental health and yet chose ‘profit over safety.’ Resse’s work and its acknowledgment thus becomes crucial in exposing such nexus.
Muratov, on the other hand, had co-founded independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in 1993. According to the committee, “the newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media.” It is undoubtedly the only paper in the country to have a critical voice towards the people at the helm of the power corridors. Both Resse and Muratov are an inspiration for journalists and help open the much-needed discourse of the importance of a free and independent journalism in a country. One that is a dire need of any society against the injustices of the state.