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Press Freedom Awards Honor Journalists at Risk


An international media watchdog group recently honored journalists and news organizations with awards. But the group Reporters Without Borders has loftier goals than to simply praise those willing to stand up for press freedom.

The Paris-based media watch group, Reporters Without Borders, says it hopes its annual awards will shed light on oppressive situations within the winners' countries and provide support for journalists to continue their efforts.

"The worst that can happen to these people is to be alone in front of the danger they are facing. When they receive such a prize coming from a European country and feel that the international community is really conscious and interested in what they are doing, it's a big encouragement for them to keep on doing the job in spite of all the danger," said Regis Bourgeat, who is in charge of Reporters Without Borders Americas division.

He says the international spotlight that comes with the awards offers a form of protection to journalists. He notes some previous winners were released from prison within weeks or months of winning, saying he hopes the international attention was a contributing factor.

This year Reporters Without Borders recognized the Mexican weekly magazine Zeta for its ground-breaking investigative reporting and editorial writing. The media watchdog group says three Zeta reporters have been killed for their reporting of powerful drug cartels in Tijuana, Mexico. The crimes remain unsolved.

"We know that if nobody dares to talk about these problems of this area, these problems will never be solved. So it was a kind of an encouragement for the weekly. It was also a signal for the Mexican authorities, 'We want you to make clear what has happened exactly and to arrest the people who have killed the journalists working for Zeta,'" Mr. Bourgeat said.

No representative from Zeta was on hand Tuesday to receive the award at a ceremony in Paris. Reporters without Borders explained that, for safety reasons, the magazine's publisher was advised not to leave Mexico, where he has extensive security.

In fact, none of this year's three winners was able to travel to Paris to attend the ceremony.

Algerian journalist Hafnaoui Ghoul is not permitted to leave his country since he was released from jail less than one month ago. He served six months in prison for alleged libel for writing about corruption by local officials.

The media organization says Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, who was honored for speaking out against oppression, is also not allowed to travel. Mr. Liu, a former Beijing University professor, was instead represented by a former student who read a speech on Mr. Liu's behalf.

Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific coordinator, Vincent Brossel, says in addition to worldwide attention, the press freedom awards come with a cash prize of three thousand 350 dollars. He says this money is crucial to activists like Mr. Liu. "When you are harassed like he is you have to be supported by independent organizations, and our money is not coming from any government. It is private money so it does not mean he is depending on someone, he just needs some support to follow his struggle," he said.

Although this year's award recipients were not on-hand, the ceremony was well attended by colleagues and family members of journalists who are missing or being held hostage. Mr. Bourgeat says the awards provide an opportunity to remind the world of all journalists who suffer in their attempts to promote freedom of the press and the right of the public to be informed.

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