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Journalists Winning Nobel Peace Prize Shows Truth Cannot Be Silenced By Force

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Silencing dissent by brute force has become the new normal.

Waking up to headlines on upcoming journalists getting detained or charged with sedition has also become very routine.

This has somewhat been more of a tradition across many countries of the world today. It’s more prominent in authoritarian regimes or in regimes where secular values have been going downhill.

In recent times, with the proliferation of many TV news channels and web portals that are unapologetically and undiplomatically biased, yellow journalism is at an all-time high. As the fourth pillar of democracy, media brings hope and hopelessness in the present day and age.

Sensationalism is the fodder for hungry masses whose lives revolve around gossips and hatemongering. In their lives, sanity, silence, slow-down and sensitivity is missing. The use of social media has revolutionized the way we consume news that is filled with migraine-inducing fake news. Most of the time, it’s a hoax, with only a handful of its sites trying very hard to expose it. As generations feed on hollow and shallow news, very little hope remains for the future.

sedition india
Waking up to headlines on journalists getting detained or charged with sedition has become routine. Representational image.

Maria Ressa And Dmitry Muratov: Nobel Peace Prize 2021 Winners

As the year draws to a close, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has announced the 2021 Nobel Prize awardees across various disciplines. ‘Peace’ as a word has been a very attractive term as it highlights newer aspirations and signifies new dawn filled with opportunities for a more humane world. Peace as a term gives this visual imagery of embossment of olive leaves and dove to give out a message of empathy, compassion and love.

The Nobel Peace Prize 2021 were awarded to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov’ ‘for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. These two personalities, for sure, have made the adage of ‘a pen is mightier than a sword’ come true. The Norwegian Nobel Committee specifically highlights the following:

  • Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines.

  • Dmitry Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions.

Maria Ressa became the first Filipino ever to win a Nobel Prize who had an illustrious career as a journalist at CNN for Southeast Asia. In 2012, she co-founded a news website called Rappler, an independent news website. She also won the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize in 2021. The Philippines is also the country that awards the Ramon Magsaysay Award to Asians for their outstanding contribution majorly in six fields, viz., government service; public service; community leadership; journalism, literature and creative communication arts; peace and international understanding and emergent leadership. It is referred to as Asia’s premier prize and highest honour. In 2019, Ravish Kumar from NDTV received this award for his outstanding contribution to the field of journalism.

Dmitry Muratov is the editor-in-chief of a Russian newspaper called Novaya Gazeta (translated as New Gazette) that is mostly involved in the critical and investigative coverage of Russia’s political and social affairs. It was organized by a group of former journalists in 1993, and six of them engaged with the newspaper have been killed in mysterious ways because of their investigations. Interestingly, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, helped set up Novaya Gazeta in 1993 with the prize money, wherein he also bought the first computers for the newspaper. UN News interviewed Dmitry recently where the journalist said he would not keep a ‘single cent’ of his prize money.

The full interview can be found here. This prize comes at a time in Putin’s Russia when Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader, politician, lawyer and anti-corruption activist, was poisoned last year via a nerve agent and was detained by the Russian authorities at the airport after he flew in from Berlin.

As per the official website of the Nobel Prize, there have been a total of 102 Peace Prize awardees. The last time a journalist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was 86 years ago. In 1935, the German Carl von Ossietzky won it for revealing his country’s secret post-war rearmament programme, who was put in a Nazi concentration camp in 1933. He died in 1948 at the age of 48.

Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov jointly won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize
Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov jointly won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Reuters/Getty

Press Freedom Index 2021

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders releases the Press Freedom Index every year. The index combines qualitative and quantitative analysis based on data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during a particular period. RSF has developed 87 questions is an online questionnaire targeting media professionals, lawyers and sociologists. This questionnaire is currently available in 20 languages.

Some of the indicators in this index are- pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure and abuses. Based on these rankings, a press freedom map is developed that categorizes countries based on colours, viz., white (good), yellow (fairly good), orange (problematic), red (bad) and black (very bad).

India is ranked 142 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index in 2021, retaining the same rank as in 2020. Maria Ressa’s the Philippines ranks 138, and Dmitry Muratov’s Russia ranks 150 in this index this year. With respect to India’s neighbours, Myanmar ranks 140, Pakistan ranks 145, Bangladesh ranks 152, Sri Lanka ranks 127, Nepal ranks 106, Bhutan ranks 65, and China ranks considerably low at 177. Afghanistan is placed at 122, which could very well see many changes in the future with the dramatic changes unfolding in the socio-political space after the misadventures of the Taliban.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand stands at 137, Indonesia ranks 113 and Malaysia is placed at 119. It is quite interesting to note that Singapore ranks 160 in the index. On the other hand, even after massive mass protests, Hong Kong ranks 80 in this index.

During the emergency of 1975, there was a heavy crackdown on the press with curtailment of freedom of speech and expression. As per the Indian Constitution, Article 19, a fundamental right under the right to freedom, guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Using this right has led to the detention of many scholars and journalists in different phases of modern Indian history. From the context of sensitive reporting, human rights are at the core of media ethics.

Slain photojournalist Danish Siddique of Reuters was one such journalist who broke the internet with his bone-chilling photographs that captured human elements in some of the most unfathomable situations with the utmost sensitivity. Therefore, there is a thin line between what one wants to speak and express and how one wants to cover it.

Freedom of speech has been life-threatening for many journalists. Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent US-based Saudi journalist, was killed brutally in Turkey in 2018. His questioning of the Saudi regime and being critical of the country’s policies meant death.

Journalists land themselves in situations that are life-threatening and fatal at times. This courage to show the world the truth paves the way for security and conflict management. Awarding Nobel Peace Prize to journalists is in the right spirits!

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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