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Egyptian Is First Blogger To Receive Knight Award

Egyptian Is First Blogger To Receive Journalism's Knight Award

For the first time, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) has awarded a Knight International Journalism Award to a blogger, Egypt's Wael Abbas, recognizing his role in bringing controversial subjects to the attention of his country's mainstream media and public.

ICFJ also awarded Burma's May Thingyan Hein with the Knight Award, paying tribute to her perseverance with the country's media censors that led to the dissemination of information on avian flu and HIV/AIDS to the Burmese public.

The Knight Award, given annually, recognizes individuals who have raised media excellence standards in their countries. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington November 12, ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan praised Hein and Abbas for maintaining journalistic integrity in two countries where the exercise of free expression can lead to harassment or imprisonment.

"They try their best to uphold the highest journalism standards, and they've done an incredible job in maintaining free flows of information in the face of tremendous pressure and direct censorship," Barnathan said.

She said that Egypt has been named by the Center for Independent Journalism as one of the top 10 "backsliders" among countries where press freedom is eroding and that Abbas' blog, Misr Digital, "breaks stories ... that are often avoided by the local media," such as protests, corruption and police brutality.

While in prison, Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah kept his site alive with scribbled messages from his cell. (© AP Images)Created in 2004, Misr Digital attracts an average 30,000 visitors per day and 1 million per month. More significant, Barnathan said, the blog has forced the mainstream media to follow up on Abbas' reports due to the large public reaction.

Abbas himself has faced arrest by Egyptian authorities, but the content he has posted on his blog is making a difference. For example, a video he featured of two Egyptian policemen abusing a detainee led to a recent Egyptian court sentence against the officers, which Barnathan called a "breakthrough" event for the country.

At the National Press Club, Abbas said the Knight Award is "very prestigious ... and respected all over the world," including Egypt, and he hoped the award will help raise awareness of his blog.

"It is not the best time for the media and the blogging community," he said, since the regime is cracking down and trying to tarnish the bloggers' reputations by accusing them of treason and acting on behalf of those outside Egypt.

In February, 22-year-old blogger and student Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman was sentenced to four years in prison because Egyptian authorities claimed his posts insulted Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. (See related article.)

However, Abbas said Egypt's bloggers have built up credibility with the public because they have broken stories the mainstream media would not publish, often using video and photographs submitted by the public to provide further evidence for their reports.

He said Egyptian citizens, often using cell phone cameras and other hand-held devices, tend to give the bloggers their material exclusively since they know it is less likely to be censored than if they submitted it to traditional media outlets.


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