That the Nobel Peace Prize, arguably the world’s most prestigious award, was finally given to a Filipino is certainly stunning.
After 120 years of existence, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to bestow the highest honor to journalist Maria Ressa, who shares the highly coveted 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
While world leaders like US President Joe Biden and UN Secretary General António Guterres congratulated and praised the latest Nobel laureates, some Filipinos were torn over Ressa’s award and whether freedom of expression is really under siege in our country at present.
But Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. is right about the impact of the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for a Filipino. “Congratulations, Maria. A win is a win. Even Cory Aquino couldn’t get it for restoring democracy through the first ever peaceful people power revolution that inspired the same throughout the Soviet Bloc and the Asian dictatorships. Amazing,” said Locsin on Twitter last Saturday.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee said Ressa, founder and CEO of online news site Rappler, and Muratov, editor in chief and cofounder of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta in Russia, “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 adverse conditions Muratov’s Novaja Gazeta faced since it started in 1993 included harassment, threats, violence and murder.
“Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism,” the Norwegian committee said.
In the Philippines, murdering journalists is common. The worst violence happened in 2009 when 32 journalists perished in the infamous Maguindanao massacre.
“We hope that Ressa’s win drives international attention to the plight of the Philippines’ local media workers, and sends a signal that a free, unstifled and critical press is necessary for a healthy democracy,” the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a tweet.
Freedom of expression, including a free, independent and fact-based journalism, ought to be crucial requisites for democracy and to protect people against abuse of power. The dark era of martial law when press freedom was non-existent clearly showed how democracy can suffer and lead to dictatorship.
My generation—the youth of the 70s and the 80s— had to set aside our comfort, safety and personal ambitions to face the martial law regime, resist the dictatorship, and help restore freedom and democracy in the country.
I shall never forget those times when we resorted to the widespread use of improvised posters or “Operation Dikit” and distribution of mimeographed manifestos to get the truth out in the absence of genuine press freedom. Indeed, my generation had to explore and harness whatever talent, resources, and information technologies were available at that time to pursue our dreams for our country and future.
Our innovative efforts allowed us to challenge the status quo. Despite great odds, it never occurred to me that we could never change the frustrating situation then.
Today’s youth are in a better position to achieve significant and positive change with the use of the Internet, computers, tablets, smart phones, and other gadgets to access Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever. There are now so many resources to communicate, upload, share photos and videos, and do many creative things to organize, connect quickly with others, and influence the people who matter, whether leaders or the ordinary fold.
But along with the power to spread truth and good news to achieve positive change in society, we also have the power and responsibility to stop the spread of fake news and disinformation pervading social media.
Freedom of expression in social media can be a powerful tool for the youth. And the Nobel Peace Prize won by Ressa and Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression ought to inspire young people.
I call on the youth to push forward, not just as fans or followers, but as leaders and actors for change. Use social media in an effective manner. Use the technology of your generation not just for play or self-interests, but harness it to make your generation an informed, organized and significant power base to achieve positive change in our country.