SpotlightING Press Freedom Activists from Egypt, Thailand, Russia and Venezuela honored by NED
On Tuesday, September 18, the National Endowment for Democracy honored the courageous efforts of journalists, publishers and press freedom advocates when it presented its annual Democracy Award to three individuals and one organization working to preserve press freedom in Egypt, Russia, Venezuela and Southeast Asia, where authoritarian regimes increasingly seek to silence the voice of independent media. The honorees have shown bravery, determination, and passion as they stand up for journalistic integrity in the face of harassment, censorship, violence, and even death.
- Hisham Kassem was honored as one of Egypt’s most prominent publishers and democracy activists. Until recently he was the publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm (The Egyptian Today), Egypt’s first independent daily paper.
- NED also recognized the work of Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) – Venezuela, a press freedom monitoring group established in 2002 that has since become an authoritative voice on freedom of expression issues in Venezuela. Ewald Scharfenberg, director of IPYS – Venezuela, accepted the award on the organization’s behalf.
- Kavi Chongkittavorn was recognized for his work as a tireless campaigner for press freedom throughout Southeast Asia. He is assistant group editor of Nation Media Group, the publisher of The Nation, one of Thailand’s leading English-language daily newspapers.
- Anna Politkovskaya, the courageous reporter for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta who was murdered at her apartment building on October 7, 2006, was honored posthumously. Throughout her distinguished career as a Russian journalist, Anna was an outspoken advocate for human rights and an end to the devastating war in Chechnya. Politkovskaya’s award was accepted by fellow Novaya Gazeta reporter Elena Milashina.
In 2007, the Democracy Awards were presented by four members of the U.S. Congress:
- Rep.Tom Lantos (D-CA)
- Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
- Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Rep. Lantos, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and co-founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, presented the posthumous award to Anna Politkovskaya calling her “one of the giants of our age” and noting how he was “impressed by her fearless dedication to making Russia a truly open, free, and democratic society.”
Upon receiving the award on behalf of Politkovskaya, Elena Milashina remarked on the outpouring of support the international community had shown for Politkovskaya and her work: “When the world stood up for her and showed us how we should value a person like her and what she’s done for the world-for Chechnyans, for Russians, for all of us-we understood we’re not alone in this world.”
Hisham Kassem, echoing Milashina’s remarks on the solidarity between journalists struggling for freedom of expression around the world, dedicated his award to Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist imprisoned for ten years in 2005 for circulating a document on the Chinese government’s efforts to silence media coverage of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Kassem noted that: “We are being honored by the American people because liberty is a universal value-it’s not American, it’s not Chinese, it’s not Venezuelan.”
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who presented the award to IPYS, spoke on the importance of free press to democracy: “Freedom of expression is an invaluable tenet to democratic society. A democratic society simply cannot function if its citizens don’t have the means to disperse and digest accurate, unbiased, objective information.” Inspired by the work of his fellow honorees, Ewald Scharfenberg accepted the award for IPYS-Venezuela and stated that: “We accept this award on behalf of our fellow journalists in Venezuela who work hard everyday to disseminate the news in spite of the pressures they are subjected to, in spite of the fear of becoming a target of defamation and intimidation.”
Kavi Chongkittavorn remarked that the spirit of brave journalists such as Politkovskaya inspire him to keep going in the struggle for free and independent media. He also commented that the work to build independent media is not isolated, but is a worldwide effort: “Press freedom and democracy is not a given. I live in Thailand where we see a backsliding of democracy and press freedom. We have to keep it up. We alone cannot keep it up if you do not help. So, this award is also for the camaraderie of those democracy-loving people.”
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), who made remarks at the awards ceremony, also noted the importance of independent media to the building of democracy: “It has been easy in the rhetoric of our times to talk about simply establishing democracy as if somehow without any roots or preparation or thoughtfulness, a whole change of government and ethos happens. But those who are in the room know this is not the case and that courageous journalists frequently set the pace [of democratic change].”
- Welcome by NED Chairman Vin Weber
- Congressman Tom Lantos presents Award to Anna Politkovskaya, accepted by Elena Milsahina
- Congressman Adam Schiff presents Award to Hisham Kassem
Remarks by Senator Richard Lugar
- Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen presents Award to Instituto Prensa y Socicedad – Venezuela, accepted by Ewald Scharfenberg
- Congressman Gregory Meeks presents Award to Kavi Chongkittavorn
- Closing remarks by NED President Carl Gershman
The award presentation was preceded by a roundtable discussion, titled “Defending Free Media in Difficult Environments.” Moderated by NED Vice President for Governmental & External Relations David Lowe, the discussion included remarks by the four awardees as well as Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House, and Marguerite Sullivan, Director of NED’s Center for International Media Assistance.
- Overview by David Lowe
- Christopher Walker, Freedom House
- Kavi Chongkittavorn
- Ewald Scharfenberg
- Hisham Kassem
- Elena Milashina (Russian)
- Marguerite Sullivan, Center for International Media Assistance
The discussion focused on the importance of a free press to establishing a democratic society and the state of independent media in each of the four awardees’ particular regions. The panelists also spoke about the challenges and opportunities ahead, especially with regards to new media, such as the Internet, which is already playing a significant role in closed societies. Walker spoke about the Internet as “in large measure the principal alternative and challenger to media hegemony in authoritarian settings. Bloggers and other new media practitioners are using the web.to ply their trade in ways that were unthinkable a generation ago.”
We would like to thank the following for their contribution toward this event:
American Federation of Teachers
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.
We also wish to acknowledge the gracious assistance of John Brademas and Thomas Marsh.