At a time when the media was getting submerged with so much controversy regarding fake news, paid news, private treaties, hegemony, consumerism there came the announcement of two journalists – one from Philippines and another from Russia – getting the Nobel Peace prize this year. When everyone was almost giving up hope for the declining ‘fourth estate’, this sudden announcement brings back renewed life blood to this essential wing of democracy.
A Press release of the Nobel Committee says “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.”
The statement clearly hints that the prize was given to them as a symbolic gesture – ‘they are representatives of all journalists”. The committee is conscious that the freedom of the press today faces increasingly adverse conditions, and that freedom of expression is an essential precondition for democracy and lasting peace. This is not to belittle the two journalists’ individual courage and contributions to global journalism in general. But the symbolic gesture of the Nobel Committee, hopefully, will have far reaching consequences. Media was undergoing a credibility crisis; people were losing faith. The open ‘public space’ of social media was being misused to such an extent that the positive contribution of the new media was being eclipsed by the ‘dark’ spaces of the web. The ‘information revolution’ was being misinterpreted. Technically today the media is a huge force; but the people in power were turning it into a Frankenstein. History says that the media has always been a tool in the hands of the powerful. In the World Wars for example
both the Allies and their opponents used radio, television, cinema, print media for propaganda of their ‘nationalistic’ ideals. We know that during the fall of the Soviet Union – and the end of the Cold War – the internet had played a vital role. Satellite phones were used during the Gulf War for ‘embedded’ journalism.
No wonder then that while the media has become stronger manyfold today with the advent of social media, the power brokers will try to make use of it for their own benefit. Globalisation, which many believe is a fallout of the new media, has made the world consumer driven. The hegemony of brands – their trends and fashions – are driven by the business houses with the help of the media. The political parties strategise their election campaigns through the media. They don’t hesitate to buy over the media houses to write in favour of them to win elections. The government advertisements form a large part of the revenue of most of the media houses - and which they cannot ignore.
In many cases the media owners align themselves with the ruling party to gain favours. In this murky world, where does the individual journalist stand? The courage of Maria and Dmitry against despotic governments in Russia and Philippines who constantly try to strangle media freedom, gives hope. There are still powers alive in this world who recognise the ‘good’ in the media. The media is still not dead.