The awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to two fighters for press freedom, Maria Ressa (Philippines) and Dmitry Muratov (Russia), has been a joyous occasion for many journalists.
In a time when media repression has intensified and the financial sustainability of news businesses is being undermined, journalists have very little to celebrate.
Muratov and Ressa's win highlights the existential challenges confronting journalism today. And the overarching message of their stories is relevant not only to democracies experiencing authoritarian re-emergence.
Leveraging her newfound global fame, Ressa has again denounced Facebook, calling the tech giant "biased against facts". Rappler, the media company Ressa co-founded, has reported on how Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has weaponised Facebook to spread lies to cloud people's judgment, silence dissent, and attack critical voices of journalists and human rights activists.
Filipinos spend about four hours each day on social media, longer than any other country. A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower revealed to Rappler that the Philippines was the testing ground for the techniques and technologies used to interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections and the 2016 Brexit referendum. These events in Western democracies prompted Australia to invest resources to understand its information ecosystem's vulnerabilities and how to respond to them.
However, other than fomenting disinformation and political interference, tech heavyweights also have overbearing dominance over online ads, which are an essential building block of the media industry's business model.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in August found that Google monopolises internet ads in Australia. Last year, 90 per cent of engagements on Australian online ads were done via a Google service. In an earlier inquiry, the antitrust body said this power imbalance has been profoundly injurious to news businesses. Experts have also faulted this as among the reasons why local news sources in many parts of Australia are dying.
Big tech's monopoly of internet ads is not just an Australian problem. If left unchecked, this partial advantage will further result in news outfits' shutdowns and job losses among journalists around the world. Small, local news businesses are particularly vulnerable.
By setting a precedent, Australia may have just thrown a life jacket to save the world's drowning public-interest journalism.
The role of local news is especially critical in the Philippine archipelago. So far, 11 community papers that inform millions have already halted printing.
If the Philippines imposes a similar media payment scheme to support local news, it would be a massive boost to community journalists who make do with measly pay, have marginalised access to opportunities, and yet are the most vulnerable to violence.
However, to hope that this can happen in the time of Duterte is unwise. The Philippines remains one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists. Under the strongman's rule, 19 journalists have been murdered. Most of them are local media workers. With the Duterte-led shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcaster, 53 of its regional TV and radio stations ceased operations, depriving hundreds of their livelihood.
With the celebrity status the Nobel Prize brings, Ressa and Muratov have become new beacons of press freedom. I hope that when the fanfare dissipates, the more pressing discussions on the plight of ordinary journalists under threat from violence and job insecurity don't fade with it. To loosely quote a friend's comment to me recently: fortifying press freedom demands more than just the changing of the guards.
- Makoi Popioco is a journalist who writes about geopolitics and security in south-east Asia. He is a former transportation and infrastructure correspondent for CNN Philippines.