It is utterly splendid that two extraordinary journalists and amazing human beings - Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia – have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. It is the first time since 1935 that the prize has been won by journalists. To me, what makes it so splendid is not just that it recognises two of the most courageous, honest and principled people in the world or even that the last time that this happened was 86 years ago, but that it also pays tribute to the importance of unfiltered, truth-seeking journalism in an age of proliferating misinformation.
Dmitry Muratov has dedicated his award to the six reporters in Russia who lost their lives in service of the truth. “Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Stas Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natasha Estemirova - these are the people who have today won the Nobel Prize”.
I had the privilege of seeing Maria Ressa in conversation with Julie Posetti at a panel organised by the International Centre for Journalists in April 2020. Her clarity of thought, bravery and uncompromising stance on the large-scale misinformation enabled by social media giants like Facebook left a lasting impression on me. I was in awe of her faithfulness to her values, despite this having resulted in numerous arrests and jail sentences for her. All that power and courage was concentrated in a petite frame emanating compassion. Quite extraordinary and wholly inspiring!
That evening Maria Ressa was advocating for news collaboration. She argued that while news organisations compete, disinformation groups unite and work together, capturing platforms like Facebook. This leads to the exponential growth of lies that eventually turn into “facts” and to levels of abuse of journalists that not even counsellors know how to handle.
“If a lie is said a million times it becomes a fact. There stops being facts. If you don’t have facts; you don’t have truth. If you don’t have truth, there is no trust. How can you sustain democracy if these three elements are missing?”
Maria Ressa’s response to this dystopian reality is to remind us all that what we do right now matters. She passionately defends truth and collaboration. She believes in the collective action of communities to defend freedom of speech against threats. She also advocates for fighting back structurally against platforms like Facebook who enable misinformation on an unprecedented scale. It is indeed critical for governments and civil society to put pressure on social media providers to fix the toxic information ecosystem which threatens democracy.
What better time to act than now, when Facebook is experiencing its biggest crisis to date? The contrast between the moral triumph of Ressa and Muratov and the moral collapse of Facebook is a source of quiet hope for me. Truth does matter and it always comes to the fore in the end. Thanks to journalists like Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov.