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Nobel sends a message both to journalists and those in power

Nobel Peace Prize winners Dmitry Muratov (left) and Maria Ressa.   | Photo Credit: AP

If you are a journalist, it is difficult not to take this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace personally. Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have been chosen for doing what the press is meant to be doing everywhere – asking questions of authority. Yet, the fact that they have been recognised for doing their work is testimony to how poorly their colleagues across the world have been performing in the face of abuse of power and diminished democracies.

In the Philippines, Ressa is on bail pending appeal for “cyber libel”, and if convicted she faces six years in prison. Her news website Rappler , like similar online forums everywhere, speaks truth to power in the face of government harassment and personal danger.

Muratov’s newspaper Novaya Gazeta does a similar job in Russia; in his first reaction to the Prize, he called out the names of his colleagues who had been killed in the line of work.

The Award is both inspiring and chilling. As democracies around the world work at dismantling one of its pillars, the press, with willing accomplices within the profession, it is inspiring that those who stand firm and brave are being recognised. On the other hand, it is an indictment of those who ought to be standing firm and brave but choose to bring their profession into disrepute by being part of the propaganda machinery.

The Norwegian Committee noted that a “free, independent, and fact-based journalism serves to protect against the abuse of power, lies and propaganda,” in its citation. While Ressa has been taking on President Rodrigo Duterte in her country, Muratov has been speaking out against President Vladimir Putin in his. Both know the hazards of such a stance, but understand that it’s necessary with all its dangers, both personal and to those close to them.

According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 21 journalists were killed in India last year, “singled out for murder in retaliation for their work”. Journalism might be one of the most dangerous professions in a fast-changing world. The traditional safety nets – rule of law, truth – don’t always function effectively. The law is used selectively against the truth-tellers and the ‘truth’ is manufactured in a back-room somewhere. This is as true of Western democracies as of dictatorships and one-man rule anywhere.

Will the Nobel to Ressa and Muratov, and everything they represent help to protect the media? It can be seen as an Award not just to individuals but for what they represent. And what they represent is the journalist struggling to bring his story to light in the smallest villages, or the one who finds the strength and courage to dig deep and expose the wrong doings of the powerful.

The Peace Prize has often gone to dissidents, political adversaries of those in power. In elevating the investigative journalist to the level of the dissident, the Nobel committee is emphasizing, at a time when we need reminding, that journalism is not a job, it is a calling.

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu).

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 6:35:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nobel-sends-a-message-both-to-journalists-and-those-in-power/article36912229.ece

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