In partnership with the French retail chain FNAC, Reporters Without Borders is delighted to award its 2010 Press Freedom Prize to two symbols of courage, the jailed Iranian journalist Abdolreza Tajik and the embattled Somali news radio station Radio Shabelle.
“This year we are honouring a courageous journalist, Abdolreza Tajik, and a beleaguered radio station, Radio Shabelle,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “These laureates work into two countries, Iran and Somalia, where reporting the news is a constant battle.”
Presenting the 2010 Media of the Year prize to Mogadishu-based Radio Shabelle, writer Jean-Christophe Rufin, France’s former ambassador to Senegal and Gambia, praised the work of Reporters Without Borders’ local correspondents and all journalists working on the ground in difficult regions.
“It is an immense honour to receive this prize,” said Ali Abdi, Shabelle Media Network’s head of international relations, who accepted the prize with emotion on behalf of his colleagues at Radio Shabelle. “It recognizes not just our own work but also the courage of all Somali journalists and Somali civil society.
“In our country, where chaos reigns and the armed Islamist militias want to silence us, we take great risks to report the news. Five of our journalists have been killed in the past three years, including two station managers, and around 100 have fled the country for safety reasons. But we will not be intimidated. We are determined to continue our struggle for independent journalists and respect for human rights.”
Mogadishu-based Radio Shabelle won the “Media of the Year” title. Somalia’s most respected privately-owned radio station, it is also the most exposed to violence. Constantly harassed by the radical Islamist militias that are fighting the transitional government, and sometimes hit by gunfire from pro-government troops during the frequent armed clashes, it struggles to survive amid the chaos.
Four of its journalists were killed in 2009, including the manager, Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe, who was shot four times in the head while on his way to work in downtown Mogadishu. This past summer, threats forced the station to stop broadcasting its talk-show “Tartan Aqooneedka Shabelle.”
Islamist armed groups have gained control of around 10 Somali radio stations this year and now use them to broadcast their political and religious propaganda. Radio Shabelle is taking a stand and has so far escaped this fate. But the Islamist militias Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam regard it as the tool of “crusader” interests because it covers Somali news in an independent manner and refuses to serve as their mouthpiece. As such, it has become the No. 1 target for these African Taliban who stop at nothing to silence journalists.
The awards were presented at ceremony hosted by journalist Elizabeth Tchoungui at the Foreign Press Reception Centre (CAPE) in Paris last night.
“This prize comes at time when the press is experiencing difficulties,” Reporters Without Borders president Dominique Gerbaud said, opening the ceremony. “This is the case in France. It is also the case in Côte d’Ivoire, where the population is currently being denied access to foreign TV news stations. Describing Reporters Without Borders’ regular activities, he cited its responses to recent incidents in Greece, Tunisia, Afghanistan and Venezuela.
“The freedom to report the news and the public’s right to receive it are under greater threat than ever,” said lawyer Gisèle Halimi, France’s former ambassador to UNESCO and a former member of the National Assembly, presenting the 2010 Journalist of the Year award. “Protecting and promoting media freedom, like the defence of women’s rights, helps to advance the freedoms of an entire society.”
Jailed for the third time on 12 June of this year, Tajik is still detained. Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, the head of the Tehran-based Human Rights Defenders Centre, received the 2010 Journalist of the Year award on his behalf.
Thanking all those who defend free speech in Iran, Ebadi said: “I regret that Abdolreza is not here to receive this award in person. His only crime has been to write, to write the truth. For doing that, he is being held in solitary confinement in Evin prison, without his lawyer being able to see him or have access to his case file. Abdolreza is a symbol of resistance in Iran, and he is not the only one. I hope he will be here next year to meet you.”
Tajik was chosen for his reporting and his commitment to the defence of press freedom in Iran. A member of the Human Rights Defenders Centre and a determined free speech activist, he worked as political editor on many of the newspapers that have been closed by the authorities, such as Fateh (closed by the authorities in 2000), Bahar (closed in 2001), Bonyan (closed in 2002), Hambastegi (closed in 2003) and Shargh (closed in 2008). He often writes about free speech violations and arbitrary arrests of journalists.
The Reporters Without Borders Prize has been awarded every since 1992 to a journalist and a news media in different parts of the world that have made a significant contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. The prize winners are selected by an international jury of journalists and human rights activists.
Speaking on behalf of Reporters Without Borders’ partner in the Press Freedom Prize, Fnac executive committee member Isabelle Saviane said: “Fnac regards itself as an actor in society and as a media in its own right, and intends to play a role alongside NGOs such as Reporters Without Borders. Social involvement is an integral part of Fnac’s DNA and therefore its economic model. And we are going to propose new joint actions with Reporters Without Borders in 2011.”