Last October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia had won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” To both, Project Ploughshares extends sincere and hearty congratulations!
On December 10 in Oslo, each prize winner presented a lecture. Ressa spoke about how journalists are threatened and silenced when they try to present the truth. She spoke out against social media and related technology enhanced by artificial intelligence, “with its god-like power that has allowed a virus of lies to infect each of us.” And she warned about how, without “information ecosystems that live and die by facts,” there can be no lasting peace. Fortunately, her speech also illustrated ways in which that new ecosystem can be used for good. Despite her diatribe against technology, she asserted that “journalists must embrace technology,” expressing confidence that tech in the hands of journalists “won’t be viral.”
Muratov also made truth his mantra. He stated that the “mission” of journalists was to “distinguish between facts and fiction.” He also valued the new generation of journalists who can use technology – “big data and databases.”
The peace tent is a large one, able to shelter many different perspectives and principles. The Nobel committee claimed that the 2021 peace laureates were fighting for freedom of expression. But it might be more accurate to say that these two peace warriors were champions of truth and facts, striking out against misinformation and lies.
What “truth” means has been the subject of much heated debate for millennia. The belief that facts, accurately and clearly reported, are critical to building trust and peace among groups of people is, perhaps, at least somewhat less controversial.
Certainly accurate data is critical to the work that is done at Project Ploughshares. For example, we strive to present a clear, true picture of Canada’s involvement in the international arms trade and how Canada is contributing to foreign armed conflicts. It is from this platform of truth that we speak to government. We study how new technologies contribute to repression and conflict and convey this information clearly to a wide audience. We go back to the primary texts of treaties and agreements to determine what is actually lawful and appropriate behaviour for member states.
And so, it is with a sense of true community that we again applaud the 2021 peace laureates. Because we are all committed, in the words of Maria Ressa, “to bring you the truth and hold power to account.”