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Peter Mackler Award Ceremony Recap

The first annual Peter Mackler Award Ceremony was a success, with attendees including a wide range of journalists from around the world, all there to honor the memory of Peter Mackler and show support for the award winner, jailed Sri Lankan journalist J. S. Tissainayagam.

Clothilde Le Coz, Washington Director of Reporters Without Borders, gave an impassioned speech, denouncing J. S. Tissainayagam’s wrongful imprisonment and calling for justice to be sought in all cases where journalists have been unfairly imprisoned.

Tissa’s wife, Ronnate, accepted the award on her husband’s behalf.

“For the last 20 years my husband has endeavoured to pursue the goals that Mr. Mackler believed in as a journalist,” she said. “Like Peter, my husband was never too busy to encourage those who wanted to learn to write and has helped many in journalism. Today my husband is continuing to teach me courage and grace in difficult times. For him no matter what the circumstances are; there is no excuse for unkindness. No matter what circumstance fellow human beings must be treated with dignity.”

Marcus Brauchli, a friend to Peter Mackler and the executive editor of The Washington Post, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony and gave credit to reporters who face everyday challenges in developing nations or in countries which do not value freedom of speech.

“Doing such good journalism as the Peter Mackler Award encourages takes courage,” said Brauchli.

J. S. Tissainayagam’s is a Tamil reporter and editor cited by President Barack Obama as an “emblematic example” of the struggle for press access and freedom worldwide. He was arrested on March 7, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police and has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for inciting “communal disharmony”. He is the first journalist in his country to be convicted under terrorism laws.

You can view a video of the ceremony here.

Pictured (from left to right): Clothilde Le Coz of Reporters Without Borders, Lauren Mackler, daughter of Peter Mackler, Catherine Antoine, wife of Peter Mackler, Ronnate Tissainayagam, wife of J. S. Tissainayagam, and Camille Mackler, daughter of Peter Mackler

Photo Credit: Adrian Winter/PMA, Parameswaran Ponnudurai/AFP

Eritrea Houses World’s Biggest Prison For Journalists

A tiny country on the east coast of Africa, Eritrea and its 5 million inhabitants don’t often make the international news stage. But it is more politics than population that keeps the country out of the press. Eight years after a government mandate that shut down all private news outlets and ended free speech, Eritrea now matches China and Iran in the number of journalists it has detained without trial.

Reporters Without Borders announced that Eritrea now holds at least 30 journalists in prison, adding that four of the journalists who were detained in the September of 2001 crackdown have died due to harsh prison conditions which included metal containers and underground cells.

Aaron Berhane is the former editor of Setit, the largest private paper in Eritrea before it was shut down. He managed to escape to Canada after the fateful announcement in 2001, one of the few among his peers and colleagues who is not dead or in jail. He writes about the first time he heard the government announcement of the media blackout, saying:

I was in bed when my wife turned on the radio to listen to the morning news. ‘Starting today, September 18, 2001, the government has ordered all private presses to stop their publications,'” he recalls. “I felt as if I was dreaming. I didn’t move my head. I was still under the blanket.”

Berhane got lucky. He wasn’t home the night the police came to his house to arrest him and he is still able to practice journalism. He now runs Meftih, a community paper geared towards helping other
Eritreans in Canada.

There is no government interference or police harassment here and there is respect for the rule of law. In Eritrea, it’s not the law that rules, it’s one person that rules the law,” says Berhane. “I hope that one day my country will enjoy the blessings that I experience here in Canada and that my colleagues will be eventually set free.”

Citizen Journalism and Twitter in Uganda

In the midst of riots and anti-government protests leading up to the 2011 elections in Uganda, the government has continued to clamp down on the press. And as the Committee to Protect Journalists reports, citizen journalists and social media sites are helping to fill the void.

At least four radio stations were recently shut down and news broadcasts have been replaced by sitcoms or kept light, with no mention of the protests. A Ugandan talk show host, Kalundi Serumaga, was also arrested, along with four journalists from Uganda’s largest daily paper.

Internet availability has almost doubled in Uganda since 2007, boosting blogging and micro-blogging activity and opening up more channels for information. BlogSpirit is one site that aggregates blogs from Uganda and can be accessed from around the world. Although daily papers have so far been allowed to continue to print, Ugandans are turning to these sites for immediate updates and reports.

CPJ writer
Rebekah Heacock says she was constantly checking her Twitter account in hopes of hearing from her friends and colleagues in Uganda. One friend wrote: “Okay. We’re like running for our lives.” Another tweeted: “Wow…everyone hurry and turn to [Ugandan television station] NBS for a riveting report on…wait for it…how to play golf.”

You can read Heacock’s full report at CPJ here.

Rogue Journalism: From Iran to Refugee Camps

What do you do when you have the manpower, the brainpower, and the news itself, but you don’t have the right to print? These journalists–one reporting out of a heavily censored country and the other from a country where the refugee residents have no rights–got around the government barriers to create functional and even sophisticated news outlets.

T.P. Mishra is the President of the Third World Media Network and the editor of the Bhutan New Service. In his new online series for Media Helping Media, he is outlining how refugees can start their own media organizations from their refugee camps. Because these temporary camps often become permanent homes where many end up spending the majority of their lives, the need for schools and other community fundamentals arises. But with out any rights in the country you call home, the task becomes even more difficult.

And if you want to fill an information void but can’t be on the ground, Kelly Golnoush Niknejad explains in Foreign Policy how she managed to start a remote news bureau in Tehran.

To be based in Tehran means to constantly be censored and to self censor just to ensure you will be able to remain in the country, according to Niknejad. “You are likely to have to work with a semiofficial minder or show your articles to an agent from the intelligence ministry before it is published,” says Niknejad. “I was once offered access to any official I wanted, if I were willing to submit. I declined.”

What might have saved Niknejad’s Tehran Bureau is that from the beginning, her and her classmate from Columbia decided that they would not become a purely oppositional outlet. Instead of becoming an underground news source read in small circles, they sought interviews from those with varying political opinions and even attempted to get official accreditation.

Like Niknejad, Mishra also attempted to follow the law as much as possible. In fact, his first rule is to know the country’s laws. And as he goes on to explain, to know which ones need to be followed.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee Speak Out About Their Arrest

Laura Ling and Euna Lee shed new light on the details of their arrest in statement released today and restated their hopes that in the publicity surrounding their case, their original intention for being in the region will not be forgotten.

Of their time in detainment in North Korea Ling and Lee said, “There are things that are still too painful to revisit.” For now at least, they hope to keep the focus on the story they were there to cover: the extreme hardship in North Korea that sends people fleeing to China, only to face a different kind of struggle.

Although they express some regret for seemingly crossing the unmarked border, there are clear undertones of defiance towards the country that kept them locked up in conditions they are still unable to describe, and pride in the work they were doing.

“Totalitarian regimes the world over are terrified of exposure,” the women said. “Journalists have a responsibility to shine light in dark places, to give voice to those who are too often silenced and ignored.”

You can read the statement in full here.

Photo Credit Jae C. Hong/AP Photo