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Text of Remarks by J.S. Tissinayagam During 2010 Peter Mackler Award Ceremony

Ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to speak a few words this evening on the occasion of the annual Peter Mackler Award.

I have not had the good fortune of a personal acquaintance with veteran journalist Peter Mackler, whose long and dedicated service to his profession, this award commemorates. However, I am greatly indebted to his wife Catherine Antoine, and their two children – Camille and Lauren – for their friendship and support both to my wife and I during a very stressful period in the past.

At this time last year, I was in prison having served precisely 54 days of a 20-year jail term with hard labour, imposed by the Sri Lankan courts after what the International Committee of Jurists, ICJ, said was “a flawed judicial process.”

This year, the Peter Mackler Award recognises a young man for his courage and commitment to ethical journalism – Ilya Barabanov. What is sad however, is that the Novoye Vremya the Moscow weekly of which he is the deputy editor, has been the victim of persistent harassment and intimidation by Russian authorities. What is ironic though is that the threat to the freedom of expression that Ilya and his colleagues confront in Russia is hardly different from what afflicts journalists in Sri Lanka. Though the two countries are vastly different in most respects, they are united by this common evil.

Of the many Sri Lankan journalists killed for their work and their deaths still unaccounted for, Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga’s murder is perhaps foremost. Less known but equally chilling was the brutal gunning down 10 years ago of Mylvaganam Nimalarajan. His murderers are still at large, and Reporters Sans Frontiers issued a statement this week pointing to the impunity protecting his killers.

Equally cruel and mystifying is the disappearance of another Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda. He was last seen on the evening of January 24 this year. Repeated calls by his wife and human rights groups for a fair investigation into his abduction, let alone information as to his whereabouts, have passed unheeded by the police and government authorities.


It is no different in Russia. The brutal slaying of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya of the Novaya Gazeta in October 2006 stands out because of the international publicity it has received. But in the heinousness of the crime compounded by the indifference of the authorities to investigate it, it is no different from numerous other cases. Disregard to principles of accountability and the rule of law have seen attacks on many Russian journalists go unpunished.

To scores of journalists confronting the perils of persecution and censorship, an award like the Peter Mackler, offers solace and encouragement. Such awards open a window of hope illustrating that although authoritarian governments might shun the work and persecute journalists, there is a world outside that appreciates and rewards it. Furthermore, it shines a spotlight on the issues they report on.

These awards are also important because they are given by the community of journalists to other journalists for courageous investigative writing. Such writing is often done in harrowing circumstances, to keep fellow citizens informed about powerful people behaving in unethical and criminal ways.

As much as persecuted journalists value the support and recognition of their fellows in countries such as the US and other democracies – the problem is – will this relationship be able to continue? Some of the emerging trends in US journalism seem to cast a shadow of doubt on this.

There is a school of thought today that says investigative journalism, the journalism that acts as a bulwark against excessive and untrammelled power, is in decline in the US itself.

A reason cited for this decline is the prohibitive cost for long-term tracking of stories with well-trained, experienced staff. Faced with maintaining a costly newsroom in times of contracting advertising budgets, the media has fallen back on the digital – internet, blogs and so on. But unfortunately, revenues generated by the websites of individual media organisations are generally said to be insufficient to fund pools of professionally-trained journalists required for sustained, high-quality investigative journalism.

Excessive costs have also resulted in media institutions cutting back on international reporting by closing or merging their overseas bureaus. This has led to an erosion of interest in international affairs except those that preoccupy American minds: Iraq, Afghanistan and neighbours in the region.

Another constraint on rigorous investigative journalism is privacy suits. In recent years the American judiciary has upheld claims by aggrieved individuals against the media not for defamation or inaccurate reporting, but for violating privacy. Fear of expensive law suites on privacy issues has dissuaded editors from pursuing investigative reporting even if the matter might be in the public interest.

With American journalism facing such constraints there is reasonable fear that investigative reporting by journalists from other countries will figure less prominently in the eyes of the US community of journalists.

Ladies and gentlemen, the reason Ilya and I are here today is because the community of journalists outside our respective countries believed in our work and that governments of our countries had no right to stop us from writing. But if indifference to investigative journalism sets in, in countries where it is most prized, journalists like us battling autocratic regimes for human rights, equity and justice will find it much harder to survive. Please do not let that happen.

Thank you…

2010 Award Ceremony Recap – Ilya Barabanov Receives Peter Mackler Award

As he stood before a packed room of journalists and DC insiders on October 22, 2010, Ilya Barabanov called on his colleagues to speak about not only the most tragic examples of violence against journalists in his native Russia, but to remember all of those who have suffered because they pursued their profession. “Each and every one of these incidents is connected to a very real human tragedy, disastrous for our colleague, his friends and family. Today, standing here at this podium, I would like to call upon you to pay attention to all of these cases.” said Barabanov, the deputy editor of the Russian News Weekly The New Times.

Barabanov was awarded the 2010 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism at a ceremony held at the National Press Club last Friday. Barabanov, who flew in from Moscow for the ceremony, was named this year’s winner not only for his work exposing corruption within the Russian government, but also for his courage in defending his profession’s right to do so. While introducing Barabanov, Peter Mackler Award Project Director Camille Mackler stated that “By getting up and going to work every day, Ilya shows more courage than any of us will probably be called to display during our life time … Ilya’s work reminds us that the principles of a free press can never be compromised.”

During his acceptance speech, Barabanov spoke about the difficulties faced by journalists in Russia, but also noted that for independent media journalists, “our work gives us great pleasure. Being an investigative journalist in a country whose state authorities do everything to prevent such activity, is perhaps more interesting than working in an environment free of such obstacles.”

Russia, which recently ranked number 140 on Reporters Without Borders’ 2010 Press Freedom Index, is generally viewed as being at a cross roads regarding press freedom. Clothilde Le Coz, Director of Reporters Without Borders – USA, told guests at the ceremony that “in a country where being a reporter too often rhymes with renouncing your freedom, Ilya is part of the young generation of reporters who are fighting back for change.” Nonetheless, violence, harassment, and intimidation of journalists whose opinions do not align with the Kremlin continues to be rampant as the perpetrators remain able to act with impunity.

David E. Hoffman, the evening’s keynote speaker, also deplored the situation in Russia. “Russia today is not the Soviet Union. It is not an absolute dictatorship. Rather, Russia is at a crossroads. After communism, it did not develop as a full democracy. It has gone backwards in recent years.” Hoffman, a contributing editor to the Washington Post and Foreign Policy Magazine, is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Dead Hand, a look at the arms’ race during the Cold War. He also served as Moscow Bureau Chief for the Washington Post and spoke of his own friends and experiences when describing the dangers faced by journalists in Russia. Hoffman also praised Barabanov’s courage: “Ilya’s investigations are a testament to the courage of all journalists in Russia who work against such terrible odds. This kind of work is not glamorous and not easy. There is a great deal of secrecy, threats, and coercion.”

Hoffman concluded by praising Barabanov, telling him to “realize that your articles are part of making history in Russia, making a new society, building a new democracy. All around you it may seem like a dry desert – but you are a green shoot of grass. You are an example of what has gone right with Russia since the collapse of communism.”

2009 winner, J. S. Tissainayagam, also spoke at the ceremony, praising the work of the Peter Mackler Award and stating that the existence of such an award provides “solace and encouragement” to journalists who work in difficult situations, and helps shine a spotlight on the situations reporters face world wide. Tissainayagam was unable to personally accept his award last year, as he was serving a twenty-year prison sentence after having been falsely convicted on terrorism charges. After being granted a pardon, Tissainayagam arrived in the United States in June, 2010. This year’s Peter Mackler Award Ceremony was Tissainayagam’s first public speaking engagement since his release. Le Coz also praised Tissainayagam and his wife, Ronnate, saying that “it is great to see you tonight with your wife Ronnate, still determined to get the word out when it comes to Sri Lanka’s sad reality.”

Barabanov took advantage of his trip to the United States to meet with government officials and media outlets to speak about the situation of journalists in Russia. He granted interviews to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Barabanov also participated in a Question & Answer session with students at Columbia University’s Journalism School.

The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was founded in 2008 to honor the memory of Peter Mackler, a thirty-year career journalist who passed away June 20, 2008. The award is run jointly by the US branch of Reporters Without Borders and the Global Media Forum, a company founded by Mackler to provide journalism training.

Text of Remarks by Clothilde Le Coz During 2010 Peter Mackler Award Ceremony


Thank you all for being here tonight and joining us on this ceremony to honor Peter Mackler’s legacy. It is a very special event this year.

Tonight, you’ll hear from two very important journalists. I am very honored to have J.S. Tissainayagam speaking tonight. As some of you know, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail in Sri Lanka because of his journalistic work in 2009. This is the reason why he could not received the Peter Mackler Award he was awarded last year. But it is great to see you tonight with your wife Ronnate, still determined to get the word out when it comes to Sri Lankan sad reality. Journalists disappear and media are openly attacked. There is no way to investigate on any of these acts. The media are controlled by the government. Can you imagine that during the latest election, 97% of news program air-time was devoted to the president and his aides ? A voice like Tissa’s is of course not welcome. Especially when it comes to the Tamil minority. But you’ll hear more from him in just a few minutes.

As a journalist myself, I am amazed and impressed by the work of Ilya Barabanov. In a country where being a reporter too often rhymes with renouncing your freedom, Ilya is part of the young generation of reporters who are fighting back for change. No longer than a month ago, armed and masked police officers went on a 3 hour raid to The New Times, to disclose the sources of one of his interview. Of course, they are still looking for them. But The New Times is no exception. In the past year, the same happened to at least 4 newsrooms in Moscow.

Russia is not known for press freedom. Most Russians get their news via TV but have very little chance of hearing independent views on it. Opposition figures and government critics have no access to nationwide stations.

Murders of journalists and human rights activists and physical attacks on them, especially in the Caucasus republics, make Russia one of the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists.

For more than 25 years, Reporters Without Borders has been fighting for press freedom. Tonight just shows us how useful that is. As a reporter, it is an honor to be in front of them, standing up and fighting for their own rights everyday. They are not only reporters. They are examples, role models and heroes. Even if they will be too humble to admit it.

Peter Mackler Award 2010 In The News

This list will be updated as as new material becomes available.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty: Interview With 2010 Winner Ilya Barabanov;
Agence France-Presse;
The New Times (in Russian only);
Voice of America (In Russian only);
MSN;
Yahoo Canada;
France 24;
Bullfax;
All Voices;
Jakarta Globe;
News 352;
Jorbit;
Zmarter;
Freedom of Expression Sri Lanka;
TamilNet;
Alternet;
Expatica.ru;
Khaleej Times;

Russian Journalist Receives Peter Mackler Award

Russian Journalist Receives Peter Mackler Award (AFP)

WASHINGTON — Russian journalist Ilya Barabanov praised the dozens of colleagues who have lost their lives over the past decade as he accepted the Peter Mackler Award for courageous journalism.

“Today standing here at this podium I would like to call upon you to pay attention to all of these cases,” Barabanov, deputy editor of Novoye Vremya (New Times), said in an acceptance speech at the National Press Club.

“It is the reality of Russia now that independent media outlets are not able to feel safe,” he said. “But that’s not really news to any journalist working in countries with authoritarian regimes.” Read more…