The Nobel Peace Prize Awards
The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize awards came at a critical juncture amidst the ongoing crackdown by governments and private corporations on the institutions of free press and freedom of expression. This article brings forth the struggles and successes of the two recipients of the award, and also throws light on the importance of the free press in a world where yellow journalism has been evergrowing.
There has been much debate surrounding why Dr. Alfred Nobel, a war profiteer, included the Peace Prize in his will along with the other categories of the Nobel Prize. According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize recipient should have done "the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses.”
However, previous recipients of this coveted Prize indicate otherwise. The European Union, one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of weapons, was awarded the Prize in 2012. Abiy Ahmed, the fourth and current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, within a few months after being conferred the Prize initiated military crackdowns on minority groups in the Northern Tigray region of the country, causing grave Human Rights violations. The pro-democracy leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the award in 1991, provided immunity to the Tatmadaw or the Armed forces of Myanmar from the international community in light of events associated with ethnic violence against the Rohingya Muslim population.
Winners of 2021
The declaration of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners comes at a critical juncture when freedom of the press and expression has become faint in the light of high profile global setbacks such as the coup d’etat in Myanmar, the reinstatement of the Taliban in war-torn Afghanistan, and also to mention, several incidents of arbitrary killings of journalists in broad daylight by gatekeeping elements of the society and that of the government. Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov from Russia and Maria Angelita Ressa from the Philippines received the Nobel Peace Prize this year for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in their respective countries.
Having spent decades for his efforts, Dmitry Muratov received the award for fighting restrictions on free press in an authoritarian Russia. In the mid-1980s, he worked as a reporter for Volzhsky Komsomolets (Volzhsky Young Communist League), and later moved to Komsomolskaya Pravda (Young Communist League Truth). Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, he and many other former journalists from Komsomolskaya Pravda collectively founded Novaya Gazeta in Russia. It is reported that Michael Gorbachev, the former and last President of the erstwhile Soviet Union, supported their establishment with some financial assistance, from the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize award money that he won for ending the Cold War. Novaya Gazeta has played a pivotal role through the Russian daily in shedding light on the tumultuous situation in Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus. Muratov is its current Editor-in-Chief, often referred to as the face of the newspaper.
Novaya Gazeta’s fight for free press and freedom of expression came with significant costs. In the early 2000s, six reporters associated with Novaya Gazeta were killed as they reported on groundbreaking issues like corruption, crime and other alleged abuses. Muratov believes that the Nobel Prize was collectively won by all the contributing factors of his newspaper. In a United Nations News interview on 15th October, the Nobel laureate revealed that he will not take or receive even one single cent of the prize money. He added that the Editorial Board of Novaya Gazeta, in a meeting, decided how the prize money will be distributed.
“It will be donated to a health foundation that helps journalists; to a foundation that supports children with spinal muscular atrophy and other serious rare diseases; a part will go to the Anna Politkovskaya Prize Foundation; and, of course, a part will go to the children's hospice in Moscow, the Vera Foundation and the Dmitry Rogachev Clinic, where children with leukaemia are treated,” said Dmitry.
Popularly referred to as the “woman who single-handedly confronts tyranny”, Maria Ressa was conferred the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Dmitry Muratov for using freedom of expression to expose abuse of power and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. Her notable contributions in exposing fake news on social media and other interactive platforms have attracted the attention of the entire international community.
After moving to the United States of America, following the declaration of martial law in the Philippines, the Princeton attendee, Ressa received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Manila. At the initial stage of her career, she worked as a journalist for ABS-CBN in the Philippines, and later for a government-owned network called People’s Television Network (PTV). Eventually, she got recruited by the Cable News Network, popularly referred to as CNN. During her tenure in CNN, Ressa covered news all around the South-East Asian countries. She became the Bureau Chief of CNN in Manila from 1987 to 1995, and in Jakarta for a duration of ten years from 1995.
Ressa co-founded Rappler, which became one of the first multimedia news websites in the Philippines and a major news portal in the country, receiving numerous local and international awards. “Rappler” comes from the root words “rap (to discuss)” and “ripple (to make waves)”. It was born to a new world of possibilities – driven by uncompromising journalism, enabled by technology, and enriched by communities of action.
The laureate has been arrested on numerous occasions by the Philippines’ authorities. Her latest arrest happened under the pretext of the controversial cybercrime law of the Philippines, also known as “cyber libel”. Her arrest is widely referred to as a politically motivated action due to her hardline approach towards criticizing the incumbent Duterte’s regime. The Nobel Committee, in its press release, noted that “Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”
While certain critics of this year’s recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize believe that the prizes were a move by the Western Nations in promoting their propaganda, it is true that freedom of the press ensures the safeguarding of the rights of the general people and promotes free and open struggle for dissent. The two awardees have been instrumental in handholding free and fair journalistic ventures worldwide. In the words of Ressa, the future of journalists and journalism will depend on how well the fraternity carries out its work in the days to come.
Sayak Dasgupta is a second-year undergraduate student from Jadavpur University. His main interest lies in observing the international political environment, debating, and reading books and commentaries by diplomats on various geopolitical happenings from time to time.
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