“Clarity of mind, integrity and courage of heart”
On December 10, 2021, Maria Ressa, founder of Rappler (disclosure: I am a member of its Board of Directors), will be conferred the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. This was announced by the Norwegian Nobel Committee on October 8, 2021. According to its press release:
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.
Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. 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 . . .
Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.
Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time. This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize is therefore firmly anchored in the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will.”
As the Movement Against Disinformation (MAD), a coalition of individuals and organizations I lead, has stated: “This historic occasion, whereby a Filipino will be honored to receive the most prestigious international award, cannot be understated. Between 1901 and 2021, only 109 individuals have been conferred with this award. This brings great honor and recognition not only to Ms. Ressa but to the Philippines, Filipinos both present and unborn, and all journalists whom she represents through this award.”
In MAD’s statement supporting her request to the Court of Appeals for her to travel to Oslo, we point to the speed within which technology companies transform their business models, including the algorithms that they use to prioritize the contents that would be pushed to the fore of the information ecosystem, eludes and evades the ability of the state to understand and follow their implications on society. We also emphasized the inability of the state regulators to fully grasp the impact of disinformation in social media on the public at large renders impossible any attempt to implement effective guardrails that could protect the public interest. As society becomes deeply divided and further splintered apart on critical issues, due to the proliferation of several versions of truth, journalists, such as Ms. Ressa, must continue to hold the line, speak truth to power and make sense of the chaos brought about by disinformation for the benefit of the public interest and the public good.
On a personal note, Maria and I have been friends and colleagues for many years. She has my support and I congratulate her for this richly deserved award.
When she was in Harvard University last month, to deliver the Salant Lecture, Marias was interviewed by The Independent and asked where she thought all the harassment against her and Rappler would lead. Her response: “I don’t know where it will lead. But I know that if we keep doing our task, staying on mission, holding the line, that there’s a better chance that our democracy not only survives, but that I also stay out of jail. Because I’ve done nothing wrong except be a journalist, and that is the price we have to pay. I wish it wasn’t me, but it is.”
She went on to say: “If you don’t have facts, you can’t have truth. You can’t have trust. You don’t have a shared reality,” she said. “So how do we solve these existential problems — the rise of fascism, coronavirus, climate change — if we don’t agree on the facts? This is fundamental.”
It is because of this clarity of mind and integrity and courage of heart that Maria Ressa deserves the Nobel and why I will always be her friend and supporter.
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