Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, defending democracy
17 November 2021
The news coming from Oslo on October 8th was exhilarating. Lionhearted journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. With so many odd choices having been made by the Nobel Committee in recent years, it’s easy to feel underwhelmed each year when the announcement is finally made.
This year, the Committee got it so right.
It’s a difficult time to be a serious journalist. The proliferation of fake news, obliteration of the revenue model, and political and physical attacks are challenging journalists in every way imaginable.
In fact, in many parts of the world (Maria’s and Dmitry’s included), serious journalism has become one of the most dangerous professions. It’s not unusual for journalists in Turkey, China, Syria and Mexico to be imprisoned or murdered. Also in Belarus, Rwanda, Russia and Myanmar, and the list keeps growing. As a wave of populism has swept the world, and populist authoritarians come to power, we’ve watched the trend develop traction in the most unexpected places. Like America.
For citizens of a democratic society, wise self-governance is only possible when we have credible information with which to make our choices. Journalists help us get that information. But serious reporting and delivery of credible facts is a threat to those who see public office not as public service, but as an opportunity for power and self-enrichment. In many countries around the world right now, for a journalist to inform citizens about all the things they should know about their country and their leaders is a very risky business.
Maria Ressa had warned Americans that the strategic use of online misinformation and attacks on Filipino journalists by President Rodrigo Duterte was a warning of what befalls a democratic society that’s not vigilant in protecting against the weaponization of technology to distort the facts.
As President, Donald Trump labeled any news unfavorable to him as “fake news.” He explicitly and implicitly encouraged his supporters to attack journalists, giving a green light to autocrats around the world to launch their own attacks. And he inspired media outlets like Fox News and Infowars to expand their viewership by shamelessly appealing to his supporters with their own false or misleading reports. Google and Facebook then intensified the fiction and the confusion with algorithms that spread false and angry claims far faster and further than trustworthy news.
All of this has done grave harm to public trust in the Fourth Estate. We now have a mess on our hands.
That’s where the Nobel Committee’s announcement comes in. Their recognition of Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov was a profound acknowledgement of the efforts of the two to defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press in their countries. It was also powerful confirmation of the importance of those efforts to the world we value.
And so, on behalf of all journalists and serious consumers of news around the world, as well as everyone who lives in a democracy or struggles for one,
Thank you, Maria and Dmitry.