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Journalists From Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, China Honored with Press Freedom Award

On Tuesday night in New York City, the Committee to Protect Journalists will honor four reporters who have taken great risks to tell important stories. The International Press Freedom Award recognizes their extraordinary contribution to journalism and their defense of press freedom. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more about the winners.

Journalism has become a dangerous profession in many countries, not just those at war. This year, the reporters rights group Committee to Protect Journalists says 58 reporters worldwide either died in the line of duty or were deliberately targeted for assassination because of their work.

Dmitry Muratov, founder and editor-in-chief of the influential Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, knows this only too well. Three of his reporters have been killed, among them Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot to death last year. She was internationally known for her reporting on the conflict in Chechnya and as a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But despite intimidation, Muratov continues to publish one of the few Russian newspapers that consistently takes a critical view of the Russian government. Joel Simon is Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"The once feisty, lively, diverse press in Russia has been dramatically curtailed," Simon said. "Television is really firmly under Kremlin control and there are a handful of independent media outlets, foremost among them Novaya Gazeta, which has continued to report with passion and vigilance on the activities of the Russian government and has suffered a terrible price for that work."

In Mexico, journalists face dangers in reporting about organized crime, drug trafficking and corruption in the country's northern states. Adela Navarro Bello of the weekly magazine Zeta continues to do such investigative reporting in the face of threats and the murders of two of her Zeta colleagues. Navarro says the climate of fear and violence hurts the practice of journalism.

"I believe that journalism does not get along with bodyguards and bullet proof vests. It has to be done freely on the street, it should be done in the open. It should not be done like that," she said.

In Pakistan, the current government-imposed state of emergency has led to serious restrictions on the media and the closure of numerous news outlets. Among them are two of the most popular independent news channels, Geo TV and ARY One World. Mazhar Abbas is ARY One's deputy director.

"Why we were singled out, seems because these were the two main private TV channels which have the largest viewership, and some of their programs were very critical of the government. And perhaps that could be one of the reasons," he said.

Abbas says they also refused to sign a government-issued Code of Conduct that would restrict what they broadcast. He worries that if they are not on the air in time for January's elections, Pakistanis will have to rely on restricted channels that cannot comment freely.

The fourth honoree is Gao Qinrong of China. He is being recognized for his work in uncovering a corrupt irrigation project. Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"This was a terrific story, but instead of getting a journalism prize which he fully deserved, he got eight years in jail," Simon explained.

Gao served his sentence and was released last year, but Beijing did not issue him a passport and he will not be able to attend Tuesday night's awards dinner. Simon says the Committee will hold his award until he can come and receive it in person.