New York, NY, Nov. 23, 1999---The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) presented its 1999 International Press Freedom Awards to five journalists---from Colombia, Cuba, Kosovo and Pakistan---for their courage and independence in reporting the news. The honorees, who have been beaten, jailed, or had their lives threatened because of their work, received the awards at a formal dinner ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Tuesday, November 23rd.
The winners of the Ninth Annual International Press Freedom Awards are:
- Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, who is serving a four-year prison sentence in Cuba for starting an independent news agency;
- Baton Haxhiu, editor of Kosovo's leading independent newspaper, Koha Ditore, which he continued to publish from exile after eluding Serbian police;
- Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi, publisher and editor of The Friday Times in Lahore, Pakistan. Last spring Sethi was beaten, abducted and jailed after the paper published charges of government corruption;
- María Cristina Caballero, a reporter for Colombia's Semana,who received frequent death threats as a result of her work covering the country's escalating civil war.
CPJ also honored CBS "60 Minutes" Executive Producer Don Hewitt with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in the cause of press freedom.
In announcing the awards, CPJ Board Chairman Gene Roberts said, "The awards not only honor these five courageous journalists who faced jail, physical harm and even death, simply for doing their work, they shine light on the enemies of press freedom and democracy in many areas of the world."
Speakers at the event included: NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who once again hosted the awards ceremony; Maureen Dowd of The New York Times; Ted Koppel of ABC News "Nightline"; Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune; David Remnick of The New Yorker; and Ray Suarez of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer."
Norman Pearlstine, Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc., was chairman of this year's black-tie dinner. This year's dinner vice-chairs were: former talk show host Phil Donahue, the Coca-Cola Company Chairman and CEO M. Douglas Ivester, and the Freedom Forum Chairman and CEO Charles L. Overby.
CPJ Executive Director Ann K. Cooper said, "While we in America sometimes take press freedoms for granted, the hardships endured by these courageous journalists remind us that there are many places in the world where basic press freedoms simply don't exist. Because the threats these journalists stand up to are ultimately threats to all of us, we are deeply indebted to them."
Following is information about the 1999 CPJ International Press Freedom Award winners and the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient:
María Cristina Caballero, Colombia
When reporter María Cristina Caballero walks down the streets of Cambridge, Mass., she still looks over her shoulder. She fled to Cambridge from her home in Bogotá, Colombia after finding a death threat on her answering machine one day last spring. She had reason to be afraid. Four journalists were murdered in the line of duty in Colombia in 1998, and Caballero had made enemies all around, having interviewed all sides in the conflict that is tearing her country apart--including drug traffickers, guerilla leaders, and the leader of the right-wing paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). [Click here for interview]
For Caballero, universal access means more than getting scoops. It's about helping to create an environment in which peace is possible. In a country where violence is rapidly destroying a great journalistic tradition--45 Colombian journalists have been killed since 1988--she argues that Colombia's best hope for peace is a free and unfettered press that can provide a forum for dialogue and discussion. Caballero is on leave from her job as investigative editor for the weekly Semana to write a book about the Colombian civil war.
Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, Cuba.
Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández was arrested on January 18, 1999, convicted the next day of "dangerousness" and sentenced to a four-year prison term. He was held in solitary confinement for eight months. His crime: founding an independent news agency. [Read CPJ's protest letter]
D'áz Hernández is one of a number of independent journalists in Cuba who show great courage, tenacity and cunning in the inventive use of the Internet to circumvent censorship and confront President Fidel Castro's systematic campaign to suppress free expression. They dictate stories over the phone to colleagues abroad for posting on websites, where they are picked up by newspapers in the United States and Europe and sometimes broadcast back to Cuba.
This past spring, the Cuban government ratcheted up its assault on independent journalism by passing a law that criminalizes free speech and forbids contact with foreign media.
In prison, Díaz Hernández, 25, has continued to write, although guards have confiscated his stories and threatened him with up to 20 more years of jail.
Baton Haxhiu, Kosovo
As editor in chief of the Pristina daily Koha Ditore, Baton Haxhiu helped turn the paper into a provocative source of news and analysis, focusing a critical spotlight on every key player in the Kosovo quagmire. His editorial stands have angered Serb authorities, Western diplomats and rival Kosovar Albanian leaders alike.[See CPJ's March 99 news alert]
Such journalism came at a price: before the NATO air strikes, Haxhiu endured two years of Serbian state harassment, including repeated police interrogations. In March 1998, the paper's Pristina offices were ransacked and several staff members were roughed up. On the eve of the NATO air strikes, Serb forces torched the paper's offices, killing a guard. Then word came from NATO that Serb forces had killed Haxhiu. The report was incorrect: the editor had eluded the police and was hiding in a basement. But when he heard the report of his own death over short-wave radio, Haxhiu fled to Macedonia. There he resumed publication of Koha Ditore,distributing the paper to refugees.
Now back in Kosovo, Haxhiu is still a target for people who disagree with his hard-hitting coverage. Most recently, the press agency linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army denounced him as a traitor. Haxhiu has received numerous death threats as a result.
Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin, Pakistan
Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin, the husband and wife team that runs The Friday Times are journalistic heroes in Pakistan. Mohsin, the publisher, and her husband Sethi, the chief editor of the weekly paper, fought to assert freedom of the press in the face of the recently-deposed Sharif government's increasingly brutal efforts to control the media. Last May, Sethi was dragged from his bedroom in the middle of the night by government agents who beat him, gagged him and then held him without charge for nearly a month. [Read CPJ's protest letter]
During her husband's imprisonment, Jugnu Mohsin courageously refused to succumb to official intimidation. She continued to put out The Friday Timeswhile waging a campaign to learn Sethi's whereabouts and win his release. [Read CPJ's letter about this release]
The Friday Times is an equal opportunity offender that has locked horns with all of Pakistan's leaders since its inception ten years ago. The paper repeatedly angered former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto by calling on them to answer corruption charges.
Sethi's arrest galvanized the public and the local independent press, who saw the Sharif government's actions as a crude attempt to stifle political dissent in Pakistan. Read CPJ's special report on Pakistan.
Don Hewitt, recipient of the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, is the legendary executive producer of "60 Minutes," the most-watched news broadcast in the history of television, and a 50-year veteran of CBS. He was executive producer of "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite," and has headed the team at "60 Minutes" since the program's birth in 1968. Hewitt invented the television news magazine format and pioneered the provocative, hard-hitting style that for three decades has brought the show praise and controversy.
When CBS created "60 Minutes II" earlier this year, one reviewer praised it for being faithful to "the unmannered, straightforward, and yet highly distinctive '60 Minutes' style perfected by series creator Don Hewitt: no spurious visuals...no gimmicky graphics... writing and reportage of the highest standard."
Hewitt is portrayed in the movie "The Insider," which concerns CBS management's controversial decision not to air a "60 Minutes" interview with a tobacco industry whistle-blower. He has stated that he could have resigned to protest management's action, but chose instead "to live to fight another day."
He continues to be outspoken about the corrosive effect that the corporatization of television news has had on press freedoms.
The Burton Benjamin Memorial Award honors the late CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman who died in 1988.
CPJ is extremely grateful to the following
corporations, organizations and individuals for their generous support of the
Ninth Annual International Press Freedom Awards Dinner:
$40,000 & above
The Atsuko Chiba Foundation, Inc.
Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.
$25,000 & above
The Coca-Cola Company
Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas
The Freedom Forum
The Hearst Corporation
Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Inc.
Time Warner Inc.
$15,000 & above
Franz and Marcia Allina
Johnson & Johnson
The Miami Herald
The New York Times
Times Mirror Newspapers
The Washington Post Company/Newsweek
$10,000 & above
Dow Jones & Company
Entertainment Weekly/Sports Illustrated
Ford Motor Company
James C. and Toni K. Goodale
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
The McGraw-Hill Companies
The New Yorker
Open Society Institute
Reuters America Inc.
Sony Corporation of America
$5,000 & above
Abernathy MacGregor Frank
Roger Altman and Jurate Kazickas
American Lawyer Media
The Associated Press
The Baltimore Sun
James E. Burke
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cullman 3rd
Debevoise & Plimpton
Discovery Communications, Inc.
Fleishman-Hillard International Communications
Drue Heinz Trust
The Markle Foundation
Geraldine Fabrikant Metz and Robert T. Metz
The Prudential/Prudential Securities
Reader's Digest magazine
The Reebok Human Rights Foundation
Scripps Howard Foundation
Starr & Company, LLC
Mr. and Mrs. A. Robert Towbin
U.S. News & World Report
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
$1,000 & above
American International Group, Inc.
Deborah Amos and Rick Davis
Ken Auletta and Amanda Urban
W. I. Christopher Brent and Liane Beebe Brent
Robin E. Frasca
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Grunwald
Don and Marilyn Berger Hewitt Fund
James F. Hoge, Jr.
Alex Jones and Susan Tifft
Mr. and Mrs. George M. Keller
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Ruth Ann Leach and William F. Harnisch
Vincent and Anne Mai
David and Kerry Smith Marash
Judith and Harry Moses
Ambassador and Mrs. Richard W. Murphy
Anne and Victor Navasky
Bill Orme and Debbie Sontag
Rogers & Wells
The Rothko Chapel
St. Petersburg Times
Howard J. Tenenbaum and Adam J. Gittlin
Time Warner Trade Publishing
Garry and Jane Trudeau
M & T Weiner Foundation
William Morris Agency
$500 & above
Condé Nast Publications, Inc.
Condé Nast Traveler
Crowell & Moring LLP
Ron and Isobel Konecky
N.S. Bienstock, Inc.
Overseas Press Club
Radio Free Asia
Voice of America
Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering
CPJ expresses thanks to the following individuals and companies for contributing to this year's benefit
Frederick R. Bleakley
Frank N. Cooper
The Gleaner Company Ltd.
Peter C. Goldmark, Jr.
Bernard J. Henry
John A. Herrmann, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert N. Landes
Joaquin A. Martinez
Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Massing
Anh N. Nguyen
Walter H. Pincus
Marilyn and Tom Stout
Douglas K. Zwemke
List complete as of December 16, 1999
We thank the following for their creative support in the production of the videos for the Press Freedom Awards program
CPJ's work is made possible through the in-kind services
provided by the following organizations
Columbia Journalism Review
Reuters America Inc.
CPJ is grateful to
LEXIS-NEXIS for its continued in-kind contribution of information technology services.
Continental Airlines is the preferred carrier for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A special thank you goes to Gretchen Babarovic and Nancy Dobi of ABC News;
Jon Barlow of ABC News, "Nightline;"
Regina Bayard and Peter Costiglio of Time Inc.;
Virginia Somma and James Stolz of NBC News;
Kevork Babian of Dekker Babian, and Rory Kotin of Scribe, Ink Calligraphy Studio.
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