By Sushil Kutty
The Nobel Peace Prize for Maria Ressa and Dmitri A. Muratov is a shot in the arm for all journalists at a time when there is “increasing authoritarianism” and “swirling misinformation.” The Nobel Prize Committee has riled dictators with the choice. Ressa from the Philippines and Muratov from Russia have been awarded for holding their leaders to account with their journalism.
The criticism will, of course, follow that the Nobelwallas are conscripted left-liberals and decidedly anti-rightwing. Be that as it may, the fact is Ressa and Dmitri wrote and reported against authoritarianism and it didn’t matter which side of the aisle they or their targets were.
The ‘Big Picture’ is the Nobel ‘Peace’ Prize to two journalists is recognition of the repression of media everywhere in the world. Never mind if it also split the media down the middle. In India, under the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government, there’s the saccharine-dripping ‘Godi Media’ and the fire-spitting ‘Lutyen’s Media’. The ‘Godi’ are not happy with this Nobel pick.
It’s another matter that India’s journalists routinely move from Godi to Lutyen’s. That’s because, the majority of journalists are neither “left” nor “right”. Apart from a miniscule, most take their journalistic vows seriously and report “both sides” diligently. Honesty is the credo.
And these are not the ‘celeb’ TV anchors and print editors with ideology stitched to their collars, owing allegiance to media barons. These are journalists who face authoritarianism day in and day out. Some of them even get killed in the line of work. October 3, a photojournalist was “mowed” to death by a marauding jeep in Lakhimpur-Kheri.
The ‘jeep’ was allegedly driven by the son of a minister in the Modi Government. So far Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not tweeted his grief though he’s not forgotten that he is on Twitter. Rest assured Modi will not tweet “congrats” to Putin for Dmitri getting the Nobel.
India’s WaPo journalist Rana Ayyub tweeted that her “day was made” when she learned that “my dear friend Maria Ressa” had won the Nobel. Ayyub claims she herself is a much persecuted journalist. Her WaPo opinion pieces, she says, are examples of “speaking truth to power.”
There are half a dozen other “top” journalists giving her company in rattling Modi. They too claim they are victims of Modi’s “dictatorship”. These include the Pegasus spyware-hit. The Pegasus is in court and there is no horsing around anymore.
It’s a fact that journalists were being snooped upon with military-grade spyware. Earlier, in 2021, a top-shot TV anchor was arrested and jailed in Mumbai. He claimed he was an outlier and a victim of his own success. His rivals in the media world are waiting for Modi and BJP to dig their own graves to put him in his place!
India’s media is a hotbed of political warfare. There is bitter rivalry between those with Modi and those against Modi. And because elections happen year-round, the fight is never-ending. But what’s on display is not Nobel Prize material.
Rana Ayyub may be shortlisted for the Nobel, if ever, because she has “abroad support” – WaPo, NYT, CNN, Time, The Guardian… Otherwise, the political affiliations of most Indian journalists are too glaring for any of them to land a shot at the Nobel.
That said, the Nobel for Ressa and Muratov is reassurance that the fight against media repression continues. The reaction is mixed in Russia. Navalny supporters are “frustrated”. Of course, don’t expect Vladimir Putin to accept congratulations.
Maria Ressa is only the 18th woman to win the ‘Peace’ Nobel. She’s a beacon for journalists fighting the “good fight” in Asia. Ressa and Muratov were awarded for holding the flag of Press freedom high in the Philippines and in Russia.
In India press freedom is said to be under threat for as long as the current dispensation controls the wheels of governance. At least that’s what a large section of the media and the populace think.
Of course, no Indian journalist is strung from lamp-poles. But there’s always a ‘Siddiq Kappan’ jailed. Unlike the celeb anchor in trouble with the law. The courts are always open for him, but Kappan gets the short end of the shortest stick and “rots in jail.” He is denied even basic corona care.
The repression of journalists is not even collateral. It’s direct and to the face. The plight of journalists in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is a case in point. And if Rodrigo Duterte targets Ressa, Muratov wouldn’t dare take the Nobel Prize money because he would be branded a foreign agent and straight he’ll go to jail.
The Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t mean Muratov will ever live in peace! In India, a journalist can lose his job for being overly excited targeting the government with “scoops”. Media barons guided by the “authorities” often decide what is written and reported. (IPA Service)