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Democracy Advocacy Group Honors Three Journalists, Press Organization

The non-governmental advocacy group National Endowment for Democracy earlier this week (September 18th) honored three international journalists and a press freedom organization for their efforts to spread free speech and decrease political control over media. VOA's Tony Budny has the story.

Kavi Chongkittavorn has been a journalist in Southeast Asia for more than 20 years, and he says he knows the importance of his job to the region. "Freedom of expression, even in Thailand, is not a sure thing. You have to constantly fight for it and kick to maintain it."

NED presented its annual Democracy Award to Chongkittavorn, Egyptian publisher Hisham Kasem the late Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, and the Venezuelan-based Instituto Prensa y Sociedad [IPYS or Press and Society Institute].

Kasem published Al- Masry Al-Youm, The Egyptian Today, the country's first independent daily newspaper in 50 years. He began publishing it in 2004. He said that Egyptian state media had become so large it began to hurt the economy. "You cannot continue to subsidize this while you have the unique phenomenon of the city of the dead, where people actually live in grave yards. And you realize that the money going to sustain the state media could in one year take people out of a situation like the city of the dead or so many other things."

Ewald Scharfenberg represented the Venezuelan press organization IPYS. It monitors threats and attacks on journalists. Scharfenberg spoke about the added need for diligence since Hugo Chavez became president. "Fifty-six percent of reporters surveyed were victims of aggression and intimidation in the past 12 months. The majority of incidents are attacks on the streets by Chavez supporters."

Russian journalist Elena Milashina was a friend and colleague of Politkovskaya and accepted the award on her behalf. Politkoskaya died in 2006 after an unidentified gunman shot and killed her in her apartment building.

Democratic Party Congressman Tom Lantos praised Politkovskaya's coverage of the conflict in Chechnya. "We are here to honor a true hero of democracy, human rights, free journalism, and a lover of Russia, was cut down at a very young age because of her unbelievable courage and her willingness to put her life on the line."

Milishina said, in Russia, reporting has meaning beyond journalism. "It's not something brave, but in our country, telling the truth becomes one of the bravest things."

Each individual honored showed that even doing what may seem like a simple job can influence the lives of many.