By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists, the Nobel Prize Committee has chosen to send a powerful message to leaders and governments around the world. They have recognised Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia for their brave fight against abuse of power by the state and fake propaganda. Ressa doggedly documented, and faced government repression on that score, the massacres and corruption surrounding Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's proclaimed "war on drugs" which she chronicled in her online publication "Rappler" of which she is also the co-founder. In Russia, Muratov's publication "Noviya Gazeta" has also come under brutal repression from President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule. Muratov is the chief editor and co-founder of the Gazeta. Six journalists, including reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who criticized Putin's Chechen policy, have had to pay with their lives, in a world where freedom of speech and expression and objective journalism are held up as the keystone of democracy and peace. With this declaration, the Nobel Committee has highlighted these values and the threats faced by journalists by holding up two who fight for freedom of the press.
There are those who do not agree with the awarding of the prize this year. It is true that Nobels do not always go to those who have made direct contribution to world peace. If the prize given to Obama was irrelevant, then Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin, Aung Sang Suu Kyi and Abi Ahmad are the Nobel Laureates who betrayed the very idea of peace at critical junctures. The 1907 award-winning Italian journalist Ernesto Teodoro Moneta too has gone on record revealing his true colours of utter nationalist chauvinism. Even so, one can argue that it is not possible to predict what Nobel prize winners would do after they receive the prize. While conceding merit to this idea, there are still allegations that the Western-centric ideals and circumstances of the Nobel Peace Prize are contradictory to the message of peace itself. The prize previously given to the European Union did not match the war hysteria displayed by its member states.
In today's world, the country with the most stake in the weapons trade, the number of wars it participated in and the largest number of military bases, is the US. But Nobel Peace Prize is unable to expose that. Media freedom deserves respect as a fundamental right and yet why has no Nobel been awarded to Wikileaks and its founder Julius Assange who exposed the criminal secrets of the world's biggest arms trader? What claim do this year's Laureates have that Assange who fights against fabricated cases, illegal arrests and assassination plots by big powers and thus braves strong governments, has? The answer to this enquiry is that the regimes the winners expose are those unpalatable to the US. They do not do any harm to America's war mongering.
While scepticism of the Nobel Committee's decisions exists, the idea behind it, that is respecting journalism and freedom of expression cannot but be praised. The merits of the awardees are also beyond doubt. Without journalistic freedom neither democracy nor relationships between countries will be protected. Democracy is the antidote to war; and without a free and fearless media, democracy would not sustain itself. Through the Nobel Peace Prize of 2021, the committee has advocated that the foundations for honest journalism based on facts should bloom whilst also pointing out that flourishing of fake news and war propaganda should be eliminated at all costs. The very relevance of this year's Nobel Peace Prize is as a strong message. These very values are also ones that should be recognised by democracies across the world, India included, where journalists who speak the truth are killed with impunity, as recently in the height of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. This is the land where journalist-killers go unpunished. A land where the young Umar Khalid has been imprisoned for a year and fake news used by law enforcement as evidence in a court of law, and also where a journalist, Siddique Kappan who went to cover the cruel rape and murder of a Dalit girl was arrested and imprisoned. This is the India which stands at an abysmal ranking of 142 in the Media Freedom Index, just above Russia (150), and behind Afghanistan (122) and the Philippines (138) and even Myanmar (140). A land where hate-filled propaganda emanates from even centres of religious worship.
The Nobel Committee points out that the independent media should view the powers that be through a critical lens. For the sake of a peaceful world and societies, such courageous journalism need to be strengthened, and fake news stopped at all costs. This is the lesson the world needs to learn, India in particular.