Press Freedom Awards ceremony stands up for journalists in ‘increasingly repressive world’

By Brian Stelter, CNN Business

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

In the words of Committee to Protect Journalists executive director Joel Simon, “To practice journalism in the face of grave danger requires a profound sense of optimism and a sincere faith in humanity.”

Those qualities were on display Thursday night at the group’s International Press Freedom Awards ceremony in New York. Journalists from Guatemala, Mozambique, Myanmar, and other countries were recognized for their courageous work. The honorees did not travel to the US, owing to Covid-era concerns and uncertainty, but the fund-raising gala was back in-person, supplemented by an online streaming option.

You should read all about the CPJ honorees here. The quote that stuck with me most was from Matías Guente, executive editor of Canal de Moçambique and CanalMoz. His newsroom was gutted by an arson attack in August 2020. He was also pursued by local officials, harassed, and intimidated in recent years. “They can burn the newsrooms down,” he said, “but they can’t burn thoughts down. The threat of fire only increases what these arsonists fear most, the critical spirit.”

From my perspective, this annual event always reinforces the privileges of working in a flawed but ferociously free news environment like the US — a stark contrast to many other parts of the globe. Simon, who is stepping down from CPJ at year’s end after a tremendous 15-year run, said Thursday night, “I have always believed, and continue to believe, that a free society and a free people require a free press. People everywhere in the world deserve this. And we must continue the fight on their behalf.”

Spotlight on Jimmy Lai’s case

Via ABC’s recap of the event: “CPJ also presented media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai with its Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award — an award reserved for an individual who has shown extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom.” Lai, the Apple Daily newspaper owner and pro-democracy media mogul, has been behind bars for nearly a year. CPJ reiterated on Thursday that Lai should be released immediately and that all the charges against him should be dropped…

An “increasingly repressive world”

The evening’s host, ABC’s “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir, opened by making this point:

“On the face of it, the job of a journalist is simple: to gather and then report the news. But for many reporters in today’s increasingly repressive world, the very act of asking questions can be a crime. During the Covid pandemic, reporters have been jailed and intimidated just for collecting data on the numbers of infections and hospitalizations. Many governments have not been truthful about their failure to tackle the disease. Some have used the cover of Covid to stifle political dissent. Journalists looking to cut through that propaganda and misinformation of course pose a threat to those who are trying to control the message. And those journalists are at constant risk of being silenced.”

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