Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, shows a picture on a mobile phone of this year's peace prize winners, journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, at the Nobel Institute in Oslo on Oct. 8. (Photo: AFP)
The Nobel Peace Prize this year has been awarded to two journalists, Dmitry Muratov of Russia and Maria Ressa of the Philippines, “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression.”
This is the first time since 1935 that the prestigious prize has been so awarded. In that year the German journalist, Carl von Ossietzky received it for revealing Hitler’s secret rearmament plans.
There are other firsts: Muratov is the first Russian to win the peace prize since Gorbachev did in 1990. Ressa is the first Filipino to win the peace prize and the first woman to be honored with a Nobel award this year.
She was convicted of libel in her country and had to serve a jail sentence but is currently out on bail. It is hoped that international recognition will help the courts rule in her favor.
In the modern state, the profession of a journalist is fraught with danger. All governments, whether democratic or not, resist transparency and accountability. Therefore all governments tend to view journalists with suspicion, if not outright hostility.
Enmity is created when a journalist reports on the improprieties of politicians and finds himself framed for libel. But it doesn’t end there: sedition charges may be slapped, arrests can be made or, worst of all, an assassination may take place. Jamal Khashoggi, Gauri Lankesh and Anna Politovskaya are sad examples.
So the role of journalists, whether print, television, radio or internet, cannot be understated
But journalists do more than merely report. Their articles frequently shape public opinion. This makes them even more disliked.
Most of all, journalists investigate. They probe beneath the surface, they uncover secret deals, they expose the lies with which most governments today conceal their crimes and whitewash their performance.
The recent Pandora Papers investigated by the International Union of Investigative Journalists is the most recent example. Every country in the world has examples of its own.
This public recognition of the work of journalists through the peace award leads us to something else: the major role of communication and information media in today’s world.
Every modern society — even feudal societies like India, which earnestly desire to be seen as modern — realizes how important it is to manipulate one’s image, to control the flow of information and to encourage at least some form of public exchange of views.
So the role of journalists, whether print, television, radio or internet, cannot be understated. They are part of something which may be called the “world information and communication order” or WICO.
Perhaps this is a strange new term today, but WICO has had a long and somewhat unfortunate history. It was raised as an issue for the first time at the 16th Congress of UNESCO in 1970. WICO was coined by Hedi Nouira, the prime minister of Tunisia. He was the first to use it during a conference in 1974.
For the first time in 1976, the aim of establishing an NWICO or “new world information and communication order” was clearly proposed and associated with UNESCO.
This was in the heyday of the non-aligned nations, and in fact, in 1976 at the New Delhi Ministerial Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, the "new order" plan was textually formulated and submitted to the MacBride Commission.
This 16-member international body created by UNESCO to study communication issues, under the eminent Nobel Peace Prize laureate Sean MacBride, came out with a declaration on the role of the mass media entitled, Many Voices, One World (1978).
MacBride was particularly solicitous for the welfare of journalists, who were often the first to be killed either in wartime violence or by oppressive regimes.
Sadly, the new world information order didn’t go any further. It was met with unremitting hostility from the West, particularly from the USA, who saw it as a form of controlling the free flow of information.
What the West wouldn’t admit however was this “free” flow was in fact controlled almost entirely by Western media empires and usually presented a distorted view of Asia, Africa and South America. The NWICO wanted to change this.
In today’s world, freedom and truthfulness are cherished values and complement each other. But they are also under constant threat
It must nevertheless also be admitted that in most countries of Asia and Africa what passes for news is generally government propaganda.
In this respect, the Paris-based organization of journalists Reporters Without Borders (RSF from Reporters Sans Frontieres in French), founded in 1995, struggles valiantly “in the defence and promotion of freedom of information.”
Today RSF is truly international, supporting journalists in every country through training, publicity and other forms of support. It sends out its daily news releases in at least five languages (three European, two Asian).
To conclude, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded not just to those who work to resolve conflict but also to all who strive, sometimes heroically, to make the world a better place.
In today’s world, freedom and truthfulness are cherished values and complement each other. But they are also under constant threat, not only because of predatory dictators who want to stifle freedom and crush dissent but also because of a runaway media that easily creates fake news, photoshopped images, crowdsourcing and other illusions of the technosphere.
It is vitally important that we value those who struggle to make our world freer and more truthful.
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