Thursday, October 3, 2013

Peter Mackler, Remi Ochlik Honoured At Event In Washington

Photograph by Remi Ochlik exhibited at the event


The Embassy of France in the United States hosted a reception on World Press Freedom, Wednesday, honouring two journalists greatly admired for their commitment, dedication and self-sacrifice. One was the French news service AFP’s veteran, Peter Mackler, who died at 58 in 2008, and in whose memory the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was created. The other was Remi Ochlik, the young French photographer who died at Homs in 2012, while covering the war in Syria.

Speaking at the event, Catherine Antoine, the wife of Mackler said about journalists fighting for media freedom, “Many are forced to give up or give in to self-censorship. Others courageously push forward, motivated by respect for the truth and dedication to journalistic ethics. We can’t really blame those who choose to avoid danger. But, in turn, we must recognize those who choose to take personal risk on the values we hold dear.” 


Peter Mackler
 Peter Mackler won many accolades, one which described his long and dedicated service to AFP as the “driving force behind transforming the agency’s English language service into a global powerhouse.”

Also honoured was Remi Ochlik whose extraordinary commitment to war photography was displayed at the reception with an exhibit of his photographs taken at different conflicts of the Arab Spring. The tragedy of his death and the importance of keeping alive his memory through the photographs were highlighted in a message from his girlfriend Emilie Blachere read at the event.

It was really important to Remi to continue his work on Arab revolutions. He was obsessed; he wanted to describe, with his pictures, the atrocity of the war in Syria. And he was right. Everyone knows that ‘zero risk’ doesn’t exist, but nobody could live thinking that. We were prepared for everything but not for the worst. But I was, I am so proud of him.”

(Please see the full text below)

The French ambassador to US, François Delattre, speaking, paid a tribute to Mackler: “Throughout his amazing career, he followed and reported on many conflicts: both wars in Iraq as well as the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Peter Mackler devoted his life to the universal right to information. He worked hard to share his experience in emerging countries and to train many journalists and reporters, particularly in Iran and Malaysia.”

About Ochlik, Delattre said, “The brevity of his life did not prevent him from being singled out by international critics on several occasions, whether for “The Battle of Libya,” which won a World Press Photo award, or for his reporting in Tripoli, or on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in Tunisia, which earned him the Grand Prize of the European Journalism Festival.”

Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) also spoke.

The winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Jouralism is Sudanese journalist Faisal Salih, who will be honoured at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington DC on October 24.

Announcing the event Antoine said, “[t]his year, you must know that we are honoring Sudan’s Faisal Mohamed Salih at the National Press Club in three weeks. Faisal is a remarkable man and if you want to know more, you need to join us on the 24th. Ambassador Lyman who is right here with us is the keynote speaker. Please, come and show your support.”

The full text of Catherine Antoine’s speech

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Monsieur l’ambassadeur, merci pour votre hospitalité dans cette belle maison.

I have to start with something sad, but bear with me because it gets better.

Five years ago, on a beautiful Friday afternoon in June, my husband passed away suddenly.

It was the beginning of a personal tragedy for my daughters and me, but something else happened.

We received hundreds of messages, emails, letters, phone calls from people around the world who wanted to share what Peter had meant during their career.

Journalists in Bagdad, in Islamabad, in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong ; in Bosnia, Kosovo, India told us how much Peter had been and continued to be an inspiration.

My husband was a consummate reporter. For him, journalism was not only a profession, it was a way to be in life. He was immensely generous with his time, his experience, his knowledge, mentoring young reporters and discussing journalistic ethics – issues close to his heart – as well as safety in situation of conflict.

When he passed away, as is the custom in this country, people asked where they could make a donation.

One of my daughter said « We must continue Papa’s work » and the other said « Let’s create an award in his name. »

So we did - in collaboration with Reporters without Borders, an organization my husband and I have always admired.

Year after year, we have been able to help and recognize a reporter who operates in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

In 2009, JS Tissainayagam was in jail, accused of terrorism for his reporting on the civil conflict in Sri Lanka.

Today, Tissa is right here with us. He actually runs a very interesting blog – PM Media Freedom - that I recommend. You can find a link on the Peter Mackler Award website.

The following year, we recognized Ilya Barabanov, a young man from Russia whose reporting on corruption in the secret police prompted raids on the publication he still works for.

In 2011, we honored the courage of a woman, Karla Rivas, editor of a community radio in Honduras. Karla staunchly refused to be intimidated by the military. She started her acceptance speech by reading the name of 16 Honduran reporters who had been gunned down in 28 months.

Last year, Lukpan Akhmedyarov from Kazakhstan received the award. We were lucky to have him among us because thugs had left him for dead six months earlier. He had been literally beaten to a pulp, after he reported on corruption in local politics. He was an inspiring speaker at the award and at Columbia University where our winners traditionally address the students and faculty as well.

And this year, you must know that we are honoring Sudan’s Faisal Mohamed Salih at the National Press Club in three weeks. Faisal is a remarkable man and if you want to know more, you need to join us on the 24th. Ambassador Lyman who is right here with us is the keynote speaker. Please, come and show your support .

Now, you might wonder « Why should we care ? Why should we be concerned about the fate of reporters in Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Sudan ? We live here, in this beautiful city of Washington DC - designed as you know by a French man, le major L'Enfant. »

You should care deeply, for many reasons. The one I'll mention tonight is the fact that our own press is battered, and foreign correspondents are so few now. Our own professional media are undergoing drastic budget cuts at a time when reporting from overseas has never been so costly, and so dangerous.

Sure, activists, even ordinary people send tweets and posts video on YouTube.
But who’s there to bring perspective, to double check the facts and tell us in the end « what does it all mean ? »

Most often, only the local press is left to take the risks to report the truth; and they do it with little or no protection. They most often are subjected to threats to their lives, threats of torture, threats to their family.

Many are forced to give up or give in to self-censorship. Others courageously push forward, motivated by respect for the truth and dedication to journalistic ethics.

We can't really blame those who choose to avoid danger. But, in turn, we must recognize those who choose to take personal risk on the values we hold dear.

I could go on, but let me stop here for now.

Five years after my husband passed, our goal is to make the award permanent.

To do so, we need your support. Tissa, Karla, Faisal deserve your support.

Please, come to the award ceremony at the National Press Club on October 24th, buy a ticket – it only costs 25 dollars – or better, make a donation so we can continue this work.

Thank you.


Emilie Blachere’s message was read by Delphine Halgand, director in Washington of Reporters without Borders (RSF)

For the past six months, Rémi and I had talked about his project to go to Homs.

He wanted us to go together but I couldn’t. I encouraged him to go there but to be careful.

On this particular day, the 10 th of February 2012, he left. It was the last time I saw him.

And he was smiling. And I was so happy. That’s why today, I have no regrets about his trip in Syria.

It was really important to Remi to continue his work on Arab revolutions. He was obsessed; he wanted to describe, with his pictures, the atrocity of the war in Syria. And he was right.

Everyone knows that « zero risk » doesn’t exist but nobody could live thinking that.

We were prepared for everything but not for the worst.

But I was, I am so proud of him. I haven’t felt like laughing since the day of his death.

But this particular evening, I will drink for you, Rémi, for all photographers here, in Washington and others in the world who show the world not as we imagine it but the world as it is : beaufitul, amazing but so so vicious.

It’s really important that his pictures don’t die with him. We have to show them anywhere we can. And we will.

Thank you.

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