It takes courage to report the news in many parts of the world. Each year, the International Women’s Media Foundation honors that courage and promotes the importance of a free press with its Courage in Journalism Awards, the only international awards that recognize the bravery of women journalists.
2012 Courage in Journalism Awards in Los Angeles
October 30, 2012 -- More than 300 media personalities gathered in Los Angeles yesterday for the Courage in Journalism Awards, hosted by Aisha Tyler (CBS) and First Amendment Attorney Ted Boutrous, and attended by many accomplished women of the U.S. media and entertainment world, including Maria Shriver, Olivia Munn, Annette Bening, Chelsea Handler, Jennifer Westfeldt, Mary Hart, Brooke Anderson and Louise Roe.
The Awards were presented to Khadija Ismayilova, a radio reporter from Azerbaijan, Asmaa al-Goul, a freelance journalist from Gaza, and Reeyot Alemu, an imprisoned Ethiopian columnist, for their courageous reporting under difficult and sometimes life-threatening circumstances.
"This event which I come to just about every year, always humbles me deeply. And it always inspires me. These amazing women encourage me. Their stories uplift me. Their work astounds me and leaves me in awe. It's so good to know that these women and so many others like them are out there every day, risking their lives and their livelihoods in pursuit of the truth. All of us here tonight and around the world are beneficiaries of their courage, their voices and their noble struggle", Peabody-winning journalist Maria Shriver told the audience.
IWMF Board of Director's Co-Chair Ted Boutrous, filling in for Cindi Leive (Glamour) who was unable to emcee the event due to suspended air travel from New York, explained: "The IWMF does vast, far-ranging work – all with the core principal that no press is truly free and no news is truly representative without women’s voices." “And around the world, women journalists still face incredible obstacles. Many of them work in countries where it’s dangerous just to be a woman, and doubly so to be a woman asking questions and taking names", co-emcee Aisha Tyler added.
Actress Annette Bening explained to a moved audience why Courage Award winner Reeyot Alemu was unable to attend the ceremony because she is currently serving a 5-year sentence in an Ethiopian prison, condemned for speaking out against Ethiopia’s hardline government, for refusing to admit guilt and turn over information about her colleagues in return for a pardon. In a message from prison, Alemu urged the international community to "try their best to change the bad reality for Ethiopian journalists".
"In Azerbaijan, to be an independent journalist is to be an enemy of the state. And the government has efficient methods for dispatching its enemies", television personality Olivia Munn said, introducing Courage Award winner Khadija Ismayilova.
"Today we stand and speak for every journalist who corrupt regimes worldwide try to silence by putting them behind bars, blackmailing and blacklisting, killing or beating them", Ismayilova declared in her acceptance speech. The talk show host on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service who covers corruption and abuse of power by the government elite, was threatened and had surveillance cameras planted in her apartment in an effort to silence her.
"I had always been a neutral journalist – but when I was writing about the female victims of honor killings, I felt
those girls were calling me to be on their side", Courage Award recipient Asmaa al-Ghoul explained her motivation to criticize the competing forces that vie for control in her home town Gaza. The Palestinian blogger and writer regularly receives death threats and has been beaten by Hamas security forces while covering protests.
The 2012 IWMF Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Zubeida Mustafa, the first female editor in the Pakistani mainstream media and a true trailblazer who paved the way for Pakistani women to ascend to the leadership ranks of her country's news media.
"I receive this award on behalf of all my fellow journalists in Pakistan who have struggled collectively for years for press freedom which created the space for me to write on issues that are close to my heart. Also deserving recognition are the women journalists in my country who followed the path I charted out for myself. Thus they honored me and helped me earn the description of a pioneer", Mustafa said in her acceptance speech.
In addition to honoring women journalists who have shown tremendous courage in the exercise of their profession, the ceremony also paid tribute to women journalists who have given their lives to report about domestic and armed violence, corruption and abuse of power, injustice and tyranny – including Marie Colvin and Mika Yamamoto who died reporting from the conflict in Syria earlier this year.
The 2012 Courage in Journalism Awards in Los Angeles have been made possible through the generous support of Bank of America and Chevron.
See photos, watch videos and read bios of the Awardees:
Reeyot Alemu | Asmaa al-Goul | Khadija Ismayilova | Zubeida Mustafa