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Nobel Peace Prize Rightly Applauds A Threatened Free Press

By Allison G. Lee
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Nobel season is upon us — and with it, a chance to elevate figures that help make our world a better place and, through their selection, to issue a statement on the most important issues and innovations of our time. Despite a regrettable number of ignoble nominations, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize found two deeply worthwhile winners in journalists Maria A. Ressa, a fall 2021 fellow at the Kennedy School, and Dmitry A. Muratov. The pair was recognized for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression” in their respective home countries, the Philippines and Russia.

We extend our enthusiastic congratulations to the winners, both for the award and for the brave careers that led to it. Ressa’s (very recent) affiliation with Harvard is a point of pride and excitement for our university; we are deeply lucky to have her with us for the fall. Ressa is a trailblazer, and a brave one at that. After a successful career as CNN’s bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, she founded Rappler, a digital media company that has covered the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings and inspired his ire. Rappler’s investigations have shone a light on the country’s corruption and illiberalism; for her work, Ressa has had the charge of “cyber libel” laid at her feet, as if to underscore its urgency.

Despite only affiliating with our campus recently, Ressa represents, in many ways, everything a Harvard affiliate should be. With last Friday’s award, she became both the only woman to receive a Nobel prize this year and the only Filipino to ever do so for her individual work, a historic first that is also worth celebrating. The members of our own newspaper, as both Harvard students and budding journalists, have a lot to learn from her relentless commitment to bringing the truth to light.

Yet according to the Nobel Committee, the prize is meant to recognize and celebrate more than Ressa and Muratov’s own impressive work. A press release announcing the winners described the laureates as “representatives of all journalists” who strive to protect freedom of information and democracy in an increasingly hostile world, lauding the entire profession.

Honoring journalism in such an explicit manner, going as far as deeming it crucial to the survival of democracy and peace, might seem grandiose. Yet it’s a choice we deeply appreciate. Oslo’s analysis of the vital role of the free press rings particularly true in an era of democratic backsliding and petty authoritarianism. In Ressa’s own words, her award is an explicit acknowledgment that “a world without facts means a world without truth and trust;” a darker, more intolerant world where disinformation and falsified narratives color our perspectives and polarize society — our world, arguably.

Broadly accepted facts represent the backbone of democracy, offering the kind of shared understanding of society upon which healthy, non-delusional political debate is rooted. A healthy, fair, and free press is key to achieving that.

Of course, the pursuit of truth isn’t confined to newsrooms. As a truth-seeking institution with “veritas” for our motto, Harvard has much to learn from this year’s laureates. Our university must reflect on its role in building a set of common, shared facts for the country and the world. As a (perhaps the) preeminent knowledge factory, we must strive to produce and spread scholarship in a manner that allows it to be widely shared and accepted by non-Cantabrigians despite our polarized times.

This Nobel season, Oslo has left us to chew on the importance of a free press, and called attention to the ratcheting threat to democracy and journalists worldwide. Amidst this darkness, Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov shine a light.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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