The decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to honor journalistic work by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize 2021 to the Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and her Russian counterpart Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov shows the importance for peaceful social interaction that the Committee assigns to free reporting:
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. […] Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.1
According to Alfred Nobel’s will signed on 27 November 1895, the interest on the fund to be constituted shall be “distributed annually as prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Divided into five equal parts, “one part [is to be given] to the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses.”
The discrepancy between the words of the will and the words of the Committee is indicative of the evolution of our understanding of peace, the importance to peaceful development both within and among states nowadays assigned to civil society activities and domestic politics, and the linkage between democracy and peace established in western political thinking and political practice where freedom of expression appears as one of the conditions of possibility for democracy, and democracy as a condition of possibility for peace. To be sure, there is an ideological element involved.
While journalism often references peace negatively by reporting on its absence, emphasis on freedom of expression adds a positive ingredient to our understanding of peace, defining peace not in terms of what it is not but, rather, in terms of what it is. It might be difficult to ascertain what Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have done precisely for the establishment and promotion of peace congresses and the abolition or reduction of standing armies – the Committee rather unconvincingly links “freedom of expression” and “freedom of the press” with “disarmament” although disarmament has escaped almost entirely from the agenda of the allegedly “free” western press. Yet, it may well be said that their work contributes to the advancement of understanding and fellowship among (and within) nations – among other things by criticizing abuse of power and the violent consequence of state policies and by insisting on the right to report freely without state intervention and censorship. This is risky business; in many cases, state authorities do not welcome such criticism and target journalists as enemies.
Indeed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists were killed in 2021 (as of 9 October)2:
Journalism, thus, continues to be one of the most dangerous professions worldwide and many journalists – and photojournalists – lose their lives or disappear (which may amount to the same thing) while reporting on war and violent conflict.
It is interesting but perfectly in line with the democratic peace proposition that the Nobel Committee decided to award the prize not to journalists (including citizen journalists) operating, in words or images or both, within the conventional framework of war reporting but rather to journalists who report on social injustices and power abuses within specific countries or regions, reflecting the shift from negative to positive peace in Galtung’s classical conceptualization. By so doing, the jury expands, at least rhetorically, the underlying alleged peace potentialities of journalism while simultaneously incorporating journalism into the democratic peace framework. From this framework, no profound criticism of current democracy and its peace–war track record can emerge.