FOR two investigative journalists to have won the Nobel Peace Prize 2021 is not only an unprecedented accolade; in an increasingly repressive global environment, it has implications far beyond their own inspirational work.

The laureates, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, have courageously taken on the fascist regimes In their respective countries and shone a light on appalling human rights violations, abuse of power and corruption in high places.

They have held steadfast to the highest ideals of journalism despite facing relentless persecution from unaccountable authorities.

The Philippines and Russian governments employ various tactics to silence journalists, from repressive legislation, arrests on spurious criminal charges - which in the case of Ms Ressa, a co-founder and CEO of the Rappler News website, have resulted in conviction - to death threat and murder.

Six reporters working for the Novaja Gazeta newspaper, of which Mr. Muratov is a cofounder and editor in chief, have been killed in the line of duty.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee's announcement of the award underscores its wider significance. It described freedom of expression ''as a precondition for democracy and lasting peace'', adding that 

''Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda''.

Indeed that is why when countries begin to slide towards authoritarianism, the fourth estate is often the first casualty.

A vibrant media is one where journalists can report the truth without fear and act as a watchdog of the public interest.

That in turn promotes good governance and social justice - essential components for peace, which does not only mean the absence of war. 

However, when governments want to control the people and operate without accountability - in other words, violate the fundamental precepts of democracy they twist the truth and malign those who seek it.

Herein can be found the origins of the red herring known as '' fake news '' which is often used by  governments to discredit journalists who ask inconvenient questions, and also to justify naked attempts at censorship.

There could NOT be a better time to honour the work of journalists, particularly those who continue to brave the wrath of the powerful. The rise of populist demagogues and autocratic regimes in many parts of the world has made journalism an increasingly dangerous profession.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 274 journalists were jailed in 2020, the highest rate since 1992, and the number of journalists murdered in reprisal for their work more than doubled last year.

Many countries in the Developing World have fallen several places in the Press Freedom Index. Never has there been more urgency for the media to stand united against those who have cast it as a malign actor bent on stirring up trouble.

All journalists can take pride in the honour bestowed upon two of their own, for it recognizes their vital role in the promotion of peace.

The World Students Society thanks Dawn for this editorial.


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