Four groundbreaking female journalists were honored for their courageous coverage of often-dangerous international stories Monday at a panel discussion led by award-winning journalist Marvin Kalb at the National Press Club.
The awards, part of “An Evening Honoring Courage in Journalism,” went to three foreign female journalists, Iryna Khalip of Belarus, Agnés Tailé of Cameroon and Jila Baniyaghoob of Iran, and were intended to honor the women for showing “extraordinary strength of character and integrity while reporting the news under dangerous or difficult circumstances,” according to the award description. The event was co-sponsored by the GW Global Media Institute.
The 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Tel Aviv’s Ha’aretz Daily reporter Amira Hass, who has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for more than 20 years in Israel.
“These remarkable journalists have chosen to report the news in three countries where pursuit of the truth puts them at risk for arrest, physical attacks and even death,” said Judy Woodruff, chair of the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards, at the start of the event. “Still, they have consistently, for many years, chosen to risk their lives and livelihoods in pursuing stories that illuminate the lives of people in their countries and enlighten us all.”
The women, honored for their courage and resilience in the face of brutality, said they have endured vicious treatment from their governments.
Agnés Tailé, a Cameroonian radio journalist – whose broadcasts on human rights and press freedom led to being abducted in her own home at knife-point and savagely beaten – is only one example of the horrors the women have experienced in the name of democratic journalism.
The awards were presented a little more than three months after the abduction of female investigative reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling, both Americans, in North Korea.
“We just need to let everybody do their job,” Tailé said. “You cannot simply cross your arms and wait for things to get better-we cannot stand by when things are not going well with the hope that it will improve or that someone else will do the work-we’ve got to do it.”
Jila Baniyaghoob, freelance reporter and editor-in-chief of the Web site Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center), did not attend the event for fear of the Iranian government’s reaction if she accepted the award. In the past, Baniyaghoob has been imprisoned multiple times, most recently while covering the post-election protests in Iran for “disruption of public order, failure to obey police orders and propagandizing against the Islamic regime,” according to a press release for the awards ceremony.
Unfortunately, violent behavior against female journalists is not uncommon globally. According to a survey published in Glamour Magazine, 82 percent of female reporters worldwide said they had been attacked or threatened for their work.
“Journalism is more than a profession; it’s a means of fighting,” Khalip told the magazine this month. “Knowing that every word I publish can lead to my persecution-thinking, this article could be my last-makes me work even harder.”
Khalip is known for being critical of the governments of the former Soviet Republics, and has been arrested, subjected to all-night interrogations and beaten by Russian police. She is kept under constant surveillance because of the nature of her articles for the Novaya Gazeta in the Minsk Bureau, according to a press release for the award.
The IWMF, in awarding these honors, said they seek to eradicate the persecution of female journalists by bringing attention to such persecution.
“We must use our freedom in the US to fight for others around the globe who have been willing to risk their lives in pursuit of the truth,” Woodruff said.