On Tuesday, November 25, The Committee to Protect Journalists hosted its 2009 International Press Freedom Awards at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Four leading journalists were presented awards during the ceremony that according to the CPJ website, highlighted “impunity in journalist murders, this week’s killings of Philippine journalists, and the Internet’s emerging role in press freedom.”
The CPJ got its start in 1992 by a small group of U.S. foreign correspondents in response to the often cruel punishment given to their fellow colleagues by enemies opposed to independent journalism. While most assume that journalists are predominately hurt or killed in war torn regions, the majority of journalists killed in the last decade didn’t die in cross fire.
They were murdered, often as punishment for their reporting. According to CPJ research, over 500 journalists have been murdered in direct relation to their work since 1992, making murder the ultimate form of censorship and leading cause of work-related deaths. This year, 33 journalists have been killed so far, 760 have been killed since 1992—and 482 of them were murdered. Increasingly, it is online journalists that are being targeted.
Naziha Réjiba, Editor of Kalima, an online news website banned in her home country, was honored Tuesday evening for her courage. Four other leading journalists were recognized as well.
Among them was Maziar Bahari, Newsweek’s Iran correspondent, who spoke about the importance of CPJ and international support in general.
The CPJ has a full-time staff at its New York offices so any journalist reporting under dangerous conditions can depend on the CPJ in case of an emergency.
The CPJ uses its local and foreign contacts to intervene in certain situations and Bahari said that he and his colleagues appreciate the CPJ for letting them be “recognized as journalists, not heroes or victims.” When traveling on assignment, many correspondents often turn to the CPJ for insight into various press conditions around the world.
Anthony Lewis, a founding board member of CPJ, who received the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement during the ceremony, said “I believe in journalism,” when asked his reason for doing his job. Lewis also spoke about his commitment to CPJ, an organization that he’s been working with since it’s founding in 1981.
Today, the CPJ still remains to be funded solely by the donations of individuals, corporations, and foundations. On Tuesday night, more than 800 people attended the CPJ benefit dinner, which raised over $1.3 million in proceeds.
The last honoree was Jiang Weiping. Initially, Weiping was awarded back in 2001 but couldn’t be there accept because he was in prison in China at the time. Now free from prison and living in Toronto, Jiang happily accepted his award and closed the ceremony with, “The pen in my hand has not been broken.”
Last month, an award was handed over for CPJ’s role in advancing human rights worldwide. CPJ was honored as “the group that has made a significant effort to advance the cause of international justice and global human rights.” And as long as there are journalists challenging the establishment, CPJ will continue to bring their stories to light and advocate for the rights of journalists.