The Committee to Protect Journalists honored four journalists with its coveted Press Freedom Award this weekend.
CPJ Press Freedom Awards: Honoring tenacity and courage
The award winners are:
- Mauri König, one of Brazil’s premier investigative journalists, has spent 22 years reporting on human rights abuses and corruption. König’s work includes a series of articles in late 2000 and 2001 that documented the recruitment and kidnapping of Brazilian children for military service in Paraguay. While researching the story in Paraguay, König was brutally beaten with chains, strangled, and left for dead. In 2003, he faced a wave of threats from police as he reported along the Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina border area. Neither case was ever resolved.
- Dhondup Wangchen is a self-taught Tibetan documentary filmmaker who conceived and shot the film “Leaving Fear Behind” to portray life in Tibet in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Shortly after his footage was smuggled overseas, Wangchen disappeared into Chinese detention. Knowledge of his whereabouts came only after Jigme Gyatso, a monk who had helped shoot the film, was released from jail. Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison, and in January 2010, he was denied appeal.
- Azimjon Askarov, a Kyrgyz journalist and human rights defender, is serving a life term in prison in connection with his coverage of official wrongdoing and abuse. His conviction–following a judicial process marred by torture, lack of evidence, and fabricated charges–has been challenged by human rights organizations and the Kyrgyz government’s own ombudsman’s office. Askarov was charged with complicity in an officer’s murder and a series of anti-state crimes, but a CPJ special report, based on interviews with the journalist, his lawyers, and witnesses, has shown that no material evidence or independent witnesses were presented in court to support any of the charges.
- Mae Azango is one of a small number of female reporters working in Liberia. For the past 10 years, she has worked to expose the plight of ordinary people, particularly women and girls, who have been victimized by issues long hushed in her society. In 2012, Azango took on the politically sensitive subject of female genital mutilation, drawing threats that forced her and her daughter into hiding for weeks. Throughout, she continued to report on the practice, ultimately forcing the government to declare they would work to stop the dangerous practice.
While for most Americans the presentations are “nice” but have no apparent connection to their own lives. (Hence the ongoing problem of making a connection between international events and Main Street.)
But those who do not see the connection just aren’t looking hard enough.
Let’s take these winners one by one.
Mauri König’s reporting on corruption and para-military activities in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil have a direct and dramatic impact on U.S. security. Every U.S. agency dealing with security see the connection and are (in cooperation with the countries involved) dedicating resources to investigate and deal with the problems in the area.
The tri-border region is a well-known arms and counterfeit market. The weapons being traded are not for home protection but for larger criminal actions from drug and people running to terrorism. And, yes, that has a direct impact on life in the United States.
And then there is the moral issue of child slavery that need exposure. No American would ever argue — at least publically — such slavery should be allowed to exist.
So Americans owe König a debt of gratitude for exposing the activities in one of the most lawless portions of this hemisphere.
Dhondup Wangchen’s documentaries exposed the truth about life in China. Most Americans probably know that the Chinese government restricts speech, religion and the other civil liberties Americans take for granted. So from the moral side, Wangchen’s work is valuable to a better understanding of China.
Wangchen’s reports also tell the world that the Chinese government does not want bad news made public. Now think about how that affects business relationships. If businesses cannot get accurate and independent information about the social and economic situation in China, how can they expect to market goods and services to the Chinese people?
The inability to know what is going on in China means that exports from the United States to China are limited. And that means fewer job opportunities for Americans across the country.
Any time a reporter covers corruption and official abuse in a less-than-democratic country, that reporter is in danger. The work of Azimjon Askarov, showed just that in Kyrgyzstan.
The central Asian country is important to the United States because of the airbase at Manas. This is a major military base supporting the U.S. operations in Afghanistan. And now the Kyrgyz government wants it closed. This has a direct impact on U.S. military operations and U.S. security.
But let’s look further. Askarov’s reporting was on corruption in a government that gets billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid. Shouldn’t the US government and the US people be aware of how their money is being spent? (I would answer: “Yes!”)
And then there is the moral side of what happened to Askarov. The CPJ special report on his arrest and sentencing show a government that does not live up to laws and values Americans hold dear.
Fiscally and morally, the American people have a direct connection to Kyrgyzstan and a debt to Askarov for reporting on government waste, fraud and corruption.
Mae Azango brought to light a very dark and sensitive issue of female genital mutilation in Liberia. Her reporting got the government to work to stop the practice.
And for Americans? For those who like living with their heads in the sand, Azango’s reporting means nothing. To others, however, her reporting is a warning signal to Americans. Yes, female genital mutilation takes place in the good old USA.
Clearly this is a domestic U.S. situation.
On the economic side, by exposing this barbaric practice, Azango is helping empower women in Liberia. More women getting into the Liberian (and as a whole, African) market could mean economic growth and development. That means less aid and more trade. And more trade means potential U.S. jobs.
There are connections. And there are probably even more that I have not thought of.