The annual Free Press Live event took place on the 31st of October, held in The Hague. Just like in the previous years, the awards would go to the most resilient journalist, the best newcomer, and the best journalistic report of the past year. In summary, we will go through the event for you discussing all the journalists as well as the charming but questionable speakers of the day.
What is Free Press Live?
In an ever-changing environment, Free Press Live supports journalists globally in their dedication to bring the unbiased news in any form appropriate, without having to encounter threats or even violence. Next to this, the organisation also provides legal help for those who are now endured in a conflict due to their stories, findings or both. Many of them are now being persecuted, even by their own governments or other third parties. Once a year the organisation tries to honour those journalists for their exquisite work with various prizes: the Free Press Live awards.
The event started off by a talk from radio-journalist and hostess Nicole Teborg. An attempt to a comforting start is made when Terborg asks journalists to rise since “we are now in a safe place’’, a claim that initially seems doubtful as the complementary ‘newspaper’ the visitors receive have all the names of the authors altered. What’s more worrying is that the Netherlands – one of the 31 countries Free Press Unlimited (FPU) operates in – saw a Dutch journalist taken hostage by a Rotterdam courthouse a few weeks ago under the guise of ‘source protection’, because he wasn’t co-operating. It only creates more urgency for such a ‘safe place’ for journalists and people working in media.
Therefore, the focus today lies way more globally than just the Netherlands – as a matter of fact, the hostage incident won’t even be mentioned once today. Keynote speaker Bahia Tahzib-Lie, human rights ambassador of the Netherlands and former Dutch ambassador in Qatar, is introduced and begins to talk about the (non-)safety of journalists all over the world, exampling violence and murders in Mexico, Honduras, Uzbekistan, India, Palestine and many more countries. The death of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last year, which started an international crisis between Turkey and Saudi-Arabia, unfortunately fails to elicit any acknowledgements from the former ambassador. However, with as much as 80 deadly attacks on journalists in 2018 alone there are many other important cases to pinpoint as well. 2018 was, in the words of Tahzib-Lie, “the year with the most casualties among journalists ever’’.
Most resilient journalist: Ali Arkady
The first award went to the photojournalist that has demonstrated extraordinary perseverance and courage to report the news. Despite all the threats, oppression, and violence in their environments, these journalists still continue on with their brilliant work. Unfortunately, there could only be one winner. But all these three journalists are in fact resilient journalists and one is not more resilient or ‘has risked’ more than the other. The same goes for any other journalist in the world that have risked their safety to bring the news in 2019. A very important thing that the award-giver unfortunately failed to mention. Cutting to the chase, photojournalist and filmmaker Ali Arkady won the award for his outstanding photo-journalism on the war against ISIS-terrorism in Mosul, Iraq. The photos, already published in 2017, nearly cost Arkady his life: he was put on a hitlist and was forced to lay low for a while. Ali Akady came to receive the award himself and showed the whole room that this was, in fact, a safe space where nobody had to feel threatened.
The other two nominees also deserve the attention and praise for their work and achievements. Amira Al-Sharif, a Yemeni photographer and she captured the beauty – as well as the hardships – of her country by creating visual stories on the impact of Yemen’s civil war on its people. After her work was repeatedly confiscated, she fled the country to make sure that these stories would reach an international audience – and succeeded. The last nominee, Palestinian photojournalist Momen Faiz, has been on the scene for a while, reporting on daily life in Gaza from 2005. Heavily injured by Israeli warplanes in 2008, he had to amputate both of his legs. But this has not stopped him from continuing his work, as he kept on covering the 2012 and 2014 Israel-Gaza wars and border protests in his wheelchair. Determination and courage as you see, lives equally in all of these nominees, and their battle against injustice resonates with all of us and not just journalists.
Best newcomer: Elias Huuhtanen
Like most awards, we have to give credit to the best newcomer to the scene and who has proven themselves worthy of attention with their work. Man of the moment is D66’s own Sjoerd Sjoerdsma. The politician and part of the ministry of foreign affairs is invited to award the Hans Verploeg trophy – the prize for best journalistic newcomer. A strong field consisting of Elias Huuhtanen, Vino Lucero, and Andersson Boscán make up for the nominees of this award. The winner, Elias Huuhtanen, exposed the Finnish government by discovering Finnish tanks in a war report in Yemen, whereas the government itself stated that it did not sell arms to countries engaging in war.
This raised quite some eyebrows in the crowd
Nominee Vino Lucero, an investigative journalist from the Philippines, has written about topics related to many subjects: elections, privacy and the Philippian war on drugs were the most eye-catching ones. Last but not least is Andersson Boscán, an Ecuadorian journalist who created La Posta; a website for millennials to spark their interest for different kinds of news. Both Lucero and Boscán are now sued by their own governments because of their publishings. Three equally motivational and inspiring, yet heart-breaking stories on different important topics, the jury decided that Huuhtanen deserved the newcomer-award the most. A little congratulational speech was given by politician Sjoerdsma praising the Fin for his courage and investigative work to spot his country’s involvement in a foreign war. This raised quite some eyebrows in the crowd, as the Netherlands does actually still – either consciously or unconsciously – sell weapons to different parties in the Yemen-conflict as well. An interesting compliment given by the Dutch political representative indeed – expressing his opinion that is seemingly contradicting his own country’s.
Best Report Award: Hadas Itzkovich and Anya van Lit
The final award for the best journalistic report was given to Love Zone South Africa by photojournalists Hadas Itzkovich and Anya van Lit, where interracial couples in post-apartheid South-Africa were portrayed and how racial segregation has influenced their love relationships. During the country’s Apartheid era, interracial relationships were banned by law. Now, the duo (who are also a couple) has made a documentary showing the realistic experiences of interracial couples in contemporary South-Africa and how racism has affected – and still affects – their struggle for love and identity.
The other nominees were Olivier van Beemen, who investigated Heineken’s unethical business practices in Africa, and Jacqueline Maris, with a report on oil plantations in Indonesia and how farmers and the environment are affected by them. An uncomfortable moment developed when Van Beemen took the stage and spoke about his work, where he argued that it was not just a corporate issue but a cultural one as well. Not only was Heineken involved in the controversies, Van Beemen told the crowd that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs knew about it and participated along with a bunch of different (Dutch) companies. Awkward, because the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is actually one of the main sponsors of these awards and was present this day as well. A tough end for D66’s Sjoerdsma, and all the more notable for the attendees.
An afternoon of informative, courageous and innovative journalism in unsafe countries showed the audience the necessity for journalistic freedom in battling ignorance and corruption. As opposed to the flawless investigative pieces of work, the hosts and guests of the day were seemingly more interested in creating an intimate and comfortable atmosphere than a consistent delivery of talks, speeches and information. All in all, we cannot stress enough how freedom of press and the right to information are so important. And events such as Free Press Live keep reminding us that there are journalists out in the world who are not afraid to share and report their stories, but also that there is still a long way to go.
Cover: Danny Cao