The country’s first Nobel Prize recipient Maria Ressa, together with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, were honored for their journalism careers and crusade for press freedom last week in Oslo, Norway. Ressa delivered a stirring speech, one for the books and one that reflected the challenges of our times.
The peace prize for journalists, Ressa said, is a clear statement from the Nobel committee highlighting the invaluable role that each and every journalist plays each day, wherever they may be right now in the world. She noted that the last time a working journalist was given the award was in 1936 to Carl von Ossietzky, who never made it to Oslo because he languished in a Nazi concentration camp.
“By giving this to journalists today, the Nobel committee is signaling a similar historical moment, another existential point for democracy. Dmitry and I are lucky because we can speak to you now. But there are so many more journalists persecuted in the shadows with neither exposure nor support, and governments are doubling down with impunity. The accelerant is technology, when creative destruction takes new meaning,” Ressa said in her speech.
Ressa also highlighted what’s wrong with the world today, which includes “the absence of law and democratic vision for the 21st century.” “Journalists–that’s one side–the old gatekeepers. The other is technology, with its god-like power, the new gatekeepers. It has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pitting us against each other, bringing out our fears, anger, hate, and setting the stage for the rise of authoritarians and dictators around the world.”
Technology enabled the rise of social media platforms and these have their downsides, clearly encapsulated by Ressa when she said that “what happens on social media doesn’t stay on social media” since “online violence is real world violence.” Big tech has a big role in what our society has become.
“Social media is a deadly game for power and money, what Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism, extracting our private lives for outsized corporate gain. Our personal experiences sucked into a database, organized by AI, then sold to the highest bidder. Highly profitable micro-targeting operations are engineered to structurally undermine human will,” said Ressa.
As a journalist for more than 35 years, Ressa has repeatedly warned against “behavior modification system in which we are all Pavlov’s dogs, experimented on in real time with disastrous consequences.” This was done not only in the Philippines, but in Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, and more.
“These American companies controlling our global information ecosystem are biased against facts, biased against journalists. They are, by design, dividing us and radicalizing us. I’ve said this repeatedly over the last five years: without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with the existential problems of our times: climate, coronavirus, now, the battle for truth.”
Even amid the gloomy scenario that is our reality these days, and with Ressa warning more risks as elections could be marred with the “loss of integrity of facts,” she calls on each of us to “transform the hate and violence,” and “(refuse) the toxic sludge that’s coursing through our information ecosystem, prioritized by American internet companies that make more money by spreading hate and triggering the worst in us.”
There is hope, she observed, and it means that “we have to work harder.” “In order to be good, we have to believe that there is good in the world. The destruction has happened. Now it’s time to build – to create the world we want. A world of peace, trust, and empathy, bringing out the best that we can be.”