Journalism is a high calling. We’re not too meek to proclaim that. And our profession’s current chapter of disruption and misinformation hasn’t changed that truth. That’s why we’re celebrating journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for the courageous work that brought them a Nobel Peace Prize.
Announcing the prize on Oct. 8, Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen praised the journalists “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Ressa, 58, is founder of the Filipino digital news organization Rappler whose reporting has exposed corruption in President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, and large-scale police killings related to the Philippine drug war. She was one of several journalists named Time Person of the Year in 2018. Ressa has faced years of legal battles with Filipino authorities.
Muratov, 59, is the editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which has angered the Kremlin with its own corruption investigations and its coverage of Russia’s activities in Ukraine.
Both journalists work in countries with increasingly authoritarian governments led by powerful presidents. In recent years, Russian journalists have been forced to register as foreign agents, a designation that invites public contempt. Muratov dedicated his award to six journalists who have been killed for exposing human rights violations and corruption, Reuters reported.
This was the first time any journalist has won the award since 1935. It comes at a time when journalists are increasingly distrusted, even outside of authoritarian regimes. According to Gallup’s annual ranking of the most trusted professions in America, journalists rank just above lawyers and just behind bankers. Perhaps no profession save NFL referee is second-guessed more than the modern journalist.
But distrust is not persecution. Although Reiss-Andersen called Ressa and Muratov “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,” we don’t identify their achievement as corresponding with the efforts of this newspaper or any other in the United States. Rather, we humbly recognize that being a journalist in America is not nearly as dangerous as it is in Russia or the Philippines. For that, we are grateful.
Most of the reporters we come to work with every day have not been imprisoned for speaking truth, have not had to register with the government, have not been escorted from the newsroom in handcuffs, have not huddled in dark rooms dreading a knock on the door from the police, military, KGB, Taliban, etc. We live in a country where freedom of the press is enshrined in our Constitution and, despite the assertions of the most bombastic political fringes about journalists being “the enemy of the people,” continues to protect democracy from “abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” as Reiss-Andersen said. That should never change.
But the environment in which journalists do their work has certainly changed. Ressa has been unrelenting in her criticisms, not just of the politically powerful, but of the current state of public debate.
“The kind of civil discourse that used to be necessary for democracy — one, we all agreed on facts, two, we actually exchanged ideas — this is gone,” Ressa told Time.
We’re optimistic enough to believe it’s not gone forever. We hope this recognition promotes the prestige of the Fourth Estate, something that’s certainly needed right now, especially among a generation of young people discovering the value of fact-based journalism.
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