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Courage In Journalism

  • Barbara Schoetzau

The International Women's Media Foundation is honoring women journalists from Algeria, Namibia and Paraguay who have repeatedly put their lives at risk to cover controversial and often dangerous stories. The group has presented its annual Courage in Journalism awards.

The International Women's Media Foundation says this year's winners reflect a commitment to reporting the truth about injustice, corruption, and human rights violations.

An Algerian journalist writing under the pen name Salima Tlemcani (tell me san ee) has reported on fanatic fundamentalist groups for more than a dozen years. As reporter for the El Watan newspaper in Algiers, she has reported on atrocities, rapes and terrorism and currently faces several lawsuits and a prison sentence due to her exposes of corruption in government ministries. Salima Tlemcani is the fourth pen name she has used and the audience at the awards ceremony was asked not to take her photograph because of the high level of threat she and her family face. Writer Samantha Powers presented the award.

She says, "She knows today that she is still not safe. Of the 22 journalists named on that hit list by the Armed Islamic Group, 10 have been assassinated thus far. Yet she is matter of fact about her fate. I quote her: 'You speak, you die. You do not speak, you die. So you might as well speak.'"

The group also honored Namibian journalist Gwen Lister whose staunch opposition to apartheid earned her the animosity of the South African authorities in the years before Namibia gained independence from Pretoria. Because of her political reporting, she lost her job, was jailed, stood trial and was acquitted. In 1985, Ms. Lister started The Namibian newspaper. The publication was firebombed in 1988. Since Namibia's independence in 1990, Ms. Lister has found herself under fire from the Namibian government for her exposes. The Namibian Cabinet has banned government advertising in the newspaper and government departments are not allowed to buy the newspaper with government funds. Ms. Lister describes herself as an "advocacy journalist."

She says, "I was and still am unashamedly an activist who works to rectify social injustice. I believe that a journalist must have a social conscience and that an independent media can make a profound difference in many societies, particularly undemocratic ones the world over. The Namibian gave a voice to the voiceless people of Namibia."

The third international journalist honored, Mabel (mah bel) Rehnfeldt of Paraguay's ABC Color has been attacked, threated and harassed throughout her career as a journalist focusing on government corruption. Transparency International calls Paraguay the fourth most corrupt government in the world. An attempt to kidnap Ms. Rehnfeldt's 11-year old daughter in 2003 was only narrowly adverted. She is being sued by a former Paraguayan president for a series of articles linking him to a corruption scandal.

Entertainer Bill Cosby presented the Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award to Belva Davis, who became the first African American woman television reporter in 1966. Each of the winners receives 10,000 dollars from the International Women's Media Foundation.

The Foundation was founded in 1990 to strengthen the role of women in the news media worldwide in the belief that media can only be free if women have an equal voice. The group brings international journalists to the United States and sponsors programs to train women journalists throughout Africa.

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