The Nobel committee’s warningThe awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize this year to two journalists — Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia — carries extraordinary significance. Above all, the awards translate into the Nobel Committee’s special compliment of and encouragement to all reporters fighting dictatorships around the world to safeguard the freedom of speech and human rights, a pivotal mission of the press. Explaining the reasons for giving the prize to the two journalists, the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo, said, “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 Peace Prize for journalists is the first since German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935 for revealing his country’s secret post-war rearmament program after World War I. The awarding of the prize to journalists after 86 years ironically signifies a real crisis the press faces today.
As the committee said, Ressa and Muratov staked their lives to find the facts and report them in an uphill battle against dictators in their own countries. Ressa, the founder and CEO of the investigative journalism website Rappler, has been relentlessly running shocking stories about the murder of over 20,000 people by Rodrigo Duarte’s government in his war on drugs. In the process, six of her colleagues were killed in shootings and poisonings by the police. Nevertheless, she went on reporting the atrocities the government committed in the name of social order.
International organizations, including Reporters Without Borders and the United Nations, interpreted the awarding of the prize as evidence for the freedom of the press and democracy being threatened and weakened around the globe. Journalists in Hong Kong suffer from the Chinese Communist Party’s methodical crackdown on their freedoms while those in Thailand cannot speak freely after a military coup. Journalists are increasingly exposed to the danger of detention and murder as seen in UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ concerns about the increasing attacks on media workers.
Korea’s situation is no different given the government’s growing threats to the press for producing “fake news.” The ruling Democratic Party still attempts to enact a draconian law aimed at gagging the press after it criticized the administration for its undemocratic governance. The government had to take a step back in the face of opposition. It must not ignore the warning from the Nobel Committee: “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.”