Power & Market

There’s a Problem with Freedom of Speech in the Philippines

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded this year to two journalists “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”. They are none other than Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, who have each been actively crusading for press freedom, all while questioning the powers of the governments in their home countries through their media platforms. They have done so in the Philippines through Rappler, and in Russia through Novaya Gazeta, respectively.

This article will focus on the context of the former awardee, a Filipino-American woman who has been extremely critical of the controversial anti-drug stance of President Rodrigo Duterte. This distinction also makes Maria Ressa the first Nobel Prize laureate of the Philippines for any category. News of the award is currently making rounds among Filipinos on social media, where some are framing her as a champion of freedom of speech in the face of authoritarian power.

In the Philippines, Maria Ressa has been previously accused of crimes such as cyber libel and tax evasion, which her supporters highlight as attempts by opponents to silence her. Criminal charges filed against her are seen by human rights activists and political analysts as symptomatic of press freedom collapse in Southeast Asia. She and the news outlet Rappler, have, of course, had criticisms outside of the government, too. For instance, they are sometimes viewed as having their own biases towards supporting other political parties, even as they lambast the current administration.

That said, one cannot deny the value of this discourse in bringing attention to the right of persons to be able to speak freely—without the threat of violence—in a civilized society. It is also often culturally and socially looked down upon in Southeast Asia to openly express discontent against someone considered an authority figure. While the region is full of woes and development issues, one way forward is to protect individual rights, which naturally includes the freedom of speech.

With the looming 2022 elections in the Philippines—and the unfortunate rise of statist politicians and ideologies in the country—there is more reason for every person to have their voice heard. Only through open dialogue and genuine inquiry will there be the chance for change and growth. If people feel threatened by force when they try to express their honest views, the next steps towards a free democracy cannot be taken. The committee is correct about that, at least.

For now, the acknowledgment of the Nobel Prize committee will suffice as a notable triumph for freedom of expression, but until this most basic human right is safeguarded for all, societies around the world will have to continue dealing with the oppression of political censorship. In a time where “fake news” is slowly becoming an excuse to put down media sites, to silence dissenting opinions, and to manipulate any sort of public discussion, the Nobel Peace Prize awarding this year remains a strong statement: freedom of speech is not to be taken for granted.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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