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CPJ Honors Four Brave Journalists

From: Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), AWright@cpj.org

On Its 25th Anniversary, CPJ Honors Four Brave Journalists

Record Number of Deaths in Iraq Highlighted

New York, November 22, 2006 - The Committee to Protect Journalists marked its 25th anniversary by honoring four journalists with its 2006 International Press Freedom Awards in a ceremony Tuesday night which highlighted record-setting attacks on the press in Iraq.

More than 850 people attended the benefit dinner which raised $1.3 million. It was co-chaired by Robert A. Iger, president and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, and John S. Carroll, the Knight Visiting Lecturer at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University. Christiane Amanpour, CNN™s Chief International Correspondent and CPJ board member, hosted the dinner.

In addition, Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute, announced a $1 million dollar gift to CPJ for the Michael Massing Emergency Response Fund. Massing, the co-founder of CPJ, continues to play an active role on the CPJ board.

Speakers focused on challenges to freedom of the press in Iraq, Russia, Colombia, Yemen, and the United States.

Iger spoke about ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt who survived a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad in January. Iger called Woodruff’s survival "a miracle" and "a testament to his courage, his tenacity, and his own strength." Woodruff was in the audience.

Carroll focused on changes in journalism in the United States in his remarks. He called for "strong journalistic institutions" to act as a "counterweight" to the recent institutional growth of government and business.

Paul Steiger, CPJ board chairman and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, highlighted the problem of impunity in the murder of journalists. He asked the audience to sign an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for justice in the cases of the 13 Russian journalists who have died in contract-style killings since he took office in 2000, including the murder last month of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

Four international journalists received awards for their courage. Jesús Abad Colorado of Colombia, Jamal Amer of Yemen, and Madi Ceesay of the Gambia have risked their lives to report the news, withstanding attacks, harassment, and imprisonment. CPJ also posthumously honored Atwar Bahjat, correspondent for Al-Arabiya satellite television and a former Al-Jazeera reporter who was gunned down while covering a bombing near Samarra, Iraq, in February.

In accepting his award, Amer spoke out against the record of impunity in attacks on journalists in Yemen and the Middle East saying that it "is an encouragement for the perpetrators to attack or kill more journalists." To read Amer’s remarks, click here; http://www.cpj.org/awards06/amer.html#speech

Colorado, the first photographer to receive a press freedom award from CPJ, spoke about the destruction and displacement he has witnessed covering Colombia’s civil war, and the role photojournalism can play. "This photographic testament is a way to fight against war and oblivion," Colorado said. Colorado’s remarks are available here in Spanish and in English: http://www.cpj.org/awards06/abad.html#speech

Ceesay described a string of arson attacks on the independent Gambian media and the 2004 murder of his journalist colleague Deyda Hydara, calling the climate for journalists there, "typical of many African countries, where the independent press is struggling to hold governments accountable ... governments which may profess to be democratic but violate democratic principles such as press freedom." Read Ceesay™s speech here: http://www.cpj.org/awards06/ceesay.html#speech

Amanpour spoke about the record 86 journalists and 37 media support staff who have been killed covering the war in Iraq. She also referred to the detention of Iraqi journalists by the U.S. military. Of detained Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who has been held without charge since April, Amanpour said, "He should be given a fair trail or released at once. If our democracy can™t get that right, then what hope is there for journalists caught up in dictatorships?"

Hodding Carter III, the respected newspaper editor, television journalist, foundation executive, and professor, received CPJ’s Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. Carter issued a call to action against the "growing government encroachment on freedom of speech and assembly in our own land," calling for an "across-the-boards counter-attack" on the "assault that has been launched on the Bill of Rights." Carter™s remarks will be availaῢle online early next week.

Presenters for the evening’s awards included Charles Gibson of ABC News, Dean Baquet, James Nachtwey and Lara Logan of CBS News.

Photographs from the awards ceremony will be accessible online at www.cpj.org.

2006 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Biographies:

Atwar Bahjat, correspondent for Al-Arabiya and one of the best known war reporters in the Arab world, was murdered in Iraq in February along with her freelance cameraman, Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi, and engineer, Adnan Khairallah. Her bullet-riddled body was found near Samarra a day after the station lost contact with the crew. At the time of her death, Bahjat was on the outskirts of Samarra covering the bombing of the Shiite shrine Askariya, known as the Golden Mosque. According to a witness, her murderers arrived at the scene and demanded to know, "Where is the Al-Arabiya presenter?"

Bahjat, a 30-year-old Iraqi, had just joined Al-Arabiya after working as a correspondent for Al-Jazeera since 2003. She had previously worked for Iraqi TV under Saddam Hussein. She was known as a dogged street reporter who knew well the hardships endured by Iraqi reporters. In the course of her work, Bahjat received several death threats and survived a roadside bomb that destroyed her car, none of which deterred her from reporting. "She always liked to be a reporter in the field," recalled Al-Jazeera news anchor M™hamed Krichene who worked with her in Baghdad.

Jesús Abad Colorado is a freelance photographer who has witnessed some of the most violent clashes in Colombia’s civil war, capturing powerful images of human rights abuses perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. As a provincial journalist, Colorado knows the adversity faced by colleagues in strife-ridden areas outside the capital, where journalists routinely face threats of reprisal from guerrillas, paramilitaries, and local authoritieῳ. Colorado, whose work is widely published in Colombia, has displayed great bravery and determination in reporting from the front line. He was kidnapped twice by leftist guerrillas; in one case, in October 2000, guerrillas of the National Liberation Army abducted Colorado at a roadblock and held him for two days.

Colorado won acclaim for his work in the aftermath of a massacre in the town of San José de Apartadó in February 2005. His news account and photographs, published in the national daily El Tiempo, pointed to military involvement in the massacre and a pattern of close military-paramilitary cooperation in the region. The report prompted the attorney general™s human rights unit to further investigate the killings. Colorado™s work has been displayed in more than 30 exhibitions throughout Latin America, Europe, Canada, and the United States. He is a co-author of the 1997 book Accounts and Images, the Forced Displacement. Colorado™s photographs, he says, tell a story of human despair and resilience”and preserve the memory of his country™s troubled recent history.

Jamal Amer is the courageous editor of one of Yemen’s most independent weeklies, Al-Wasat, whose reporting on corruption, religious militancy, and sensitive political issues has triggered a number of frightening threats and attacks. In August 2005, he was seized by four men believed to be security agents and held for six hours. The assailants beat him, accused him of being paid byᾠthe U.S. and Kuwaiti governments, and warned him about defaming "officials." The men drove a blindfolded Amer to the top of a mountain, where they threatened to shoot him. His abduction shocked Yemeni journalists, who took it as an explicit warning against the sort of enterprising journalism that had been a mark of Al-Wasat. Justᾠdays before Amer™s kidnapping, the paper ran a daring story alleging that several government officials were exploiting state scholarships to send their own children to study abroad. This year, pro-government newspapers have accused Amer of being an agent of the West, and h!
is family has been subjected to government surveillance.

Madi Ceesay is a veteran independent journalist from the Gambia who has suffered attacks and imprisonment for his work. He is also a leading press freedom activist, serving as president of the Gambia Press Union, which has spearheaded efforts to fight impunity for attacks on the press, including the unsolved December 2004 murder of prominent newspaper editor Deyda Hydara. In 2006, Ceesay took over as general manager of The Independent, a leading private paper that has suffered frequent official harassment and two unsolved arson attacks. In March, security forces sealed off The Independent™s offices and detained staff after the paper published critical articles about a purported coup attempt. Ceesay and Editor Musa Saidykhan were held for three weeks without charge by the National Intelligence Agency. Before joining The Independent, Ceesay worked for 10 years for the respected independent weekly Gambia News and Report, first as a reporter and then as its deputy editor.

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award:

CPJ honored Hodding Carter III, whose distinguished and diverse journalism career spans more than four decades, with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award given for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in the cause of press freedom. The Burton Benjamin Award is named for the late CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman, who died in 1988.

Carter started working at his family’s newspaper, the Greenville, Miss.-based daily, Delta Democrat-Times, in 1959 and went on to spend almost 18 years as a reporter, award-winning editorial writer, editor, and associate publisher of the paper. His father, Hodding Carter Jr., founded the paper in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials on racial and religious t`lerance in 1946. Carter was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1955-56.

Carter worked on the presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He served as spokesman for the State Department and as assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1980. He went on to a successful television career as reporter, anchor, and panelist for public affairs television programs, including "This Week with David Brinkley."

Carter was named Knight professor of public affairs journalism at the University of Maryland in 1994, leaving four years later to become president and CEO of the Knight Foundation. His dynamic tenure at the Knight Foundation included important support for local journalists in developing countries and journalists at risk. Carter stepped down in 2005 and joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is university professor of leadership and public policy.

Ends

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