Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010 Award Ceremony Recap - Ilya Barabanov Receives Peter Mackler Award

As he stood before a packed room of journalists and DC insiders on October 22, 2010, Ilya Barabanov called on his colleagues to speak about not only the most tragic examples of violence against journalists in his native Russia, but to remember all of those who have suffered because they pursued their profession. "Each and every one of these incidents is connected to a very real human tragedy, disastrous for our colleague, his friends and family. Today, standing here at this podium, I would like to call upon you to pay attention to all of these cases." said Barabanov, the deputy editor of the Russian News Weekly The New Times.

Barabanov was awarded the 2010 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism at a ceremony held at the National Press Club last Friday. Barabanov, who flew in from Moscow for the ceremony, was named this year's winner not only for his work exposing corruption within the Russian government, but also for his courage in defending his profession's right to do so. While introducing Barabanov, Peter Mackler Award Project Director Camille Mackler stated that "By getting up and going to work every day, Ilya shows more courage than any of us will probably be called to display during our life time ... Ilya's work reminds us that the principles of a free press can never be compromised."

During his acceptance speech, Barabanov spoke about the difficulties faced by journalists in Russia, but also noted that for independent media journalists, "our work gives us great pleasure. Being an investigative journalist in a country whose state authorities do everything to prevent such activity, is perhaps more interesting than working in an environment free of such obstacles."

Russia, which recently ranked number 140 on Reporters Without Borders' 2010 Press Freedom Index, is generally viewed as being at a cross roads regarding press freedom. Clothilde Le Coz, Director of Reporters Without Borders - USA, told guests at the ceremony that "in a country where being a reporter too often rhymes with renouncing your freedom, Ilya is part of the young generation of reporters who are fighting back for change." Nonetheless, violence, harassment, and intimidation of journalists whose opinions do not align with the Kremlin continues to be rampant as the perpetrators remain able to act with impunity.

David E. Hoffman, the evening's keynote speaker, also deplored the situation in Russia. "Russia today is not the Soviet Union. It is not an absolute dictatorship. Rather, Russia is at a crossroads. After communism, it did not develop as a full democracy. It has gone backwards in recent years." Hoffman, a contributing editor to the Washington Post and Foreign Policy Magazine, is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Dead Hand, a look at the arms' race during the Cold War. He also served as Moscow Bureau Chief for the Washington Post and spoke of his own friends and experiences when describing the dangers faced by journalists in Russia. Hoffman also praised Barabanov's courage: "Ilya's investigations are a testament to the courage of all journalists in Russia who work against such terrible odds. This kind of work is not glamorous and not easy. There is a great deal of secrecy, threats, and coercion."

Hoffman concluded by praising Barabanov, telling him to "realize that your articles are part of making history in Russia, making a new society, building a new democracy. All around you it may seem like a dry desert - but you are a green shoot of grass. You are an example of what has gone right with Russia since the collapse of communism."

2009 winner, J. S. Tissainayagam, also spoke at the ceremony, praising the work of the Peter Mackler Award and stating that the existence of such an award provides "solace and encouragement" to journalists who work in difficult situations, and helps shine a spotlight on the situations reporters face world wide. Tissainayagam was unable to personally accept his award last year, as he was serving a twenty-year prison sentence after having been falsely convicted on terrorism charges. After being granted a pardon, Tissainayagam arrived in the United States in June, 2010. This year's Peter Mackler Award Ceremony was Tissainayagam's first public speaking engagement since his release. Le Coz also praised Tissainayagam and his wife, Ronnate, saying that "it is great to see you tonight with your wife Ronnate, still determined to get the word out when it comes to Sri Lanka's sad reality."

Barabanov took advantage of his trip to the United States to meet with government officials and media outlets to speak about the situation of journalists in Russia. He granted interviews to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Barabanov also participated in a Question & Answer session with students at Columbia University's Journalism School.

The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was founded in 2008 to honor the memory of Peter Mackler, a thirty-year career journalist who passed away June 20, 2008. The award is run jointly by the US branch of Reporters Without Borders and the Global Media Forum, a company founded by Mackler to provide journalism training.

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