Hard-hitting Chinese Reporter and Chronicler of Sexual Violence in Congo Win 2009 Knight International Journalism Award

Jun 232009

Washington, DC - The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) announced that Cao Junwu of China and Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the winners of the 2009 Knight International Journalism Award.

Cao is known for intrepid coverage of breaking news events such as the Sichuan earthquake and Shandong flood and for enterprise pieces on China’s computer game industry. Namegabe, in her radio reports, brought to global attention how women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are raped and brutalized as a tactic of war. She has also organized a network of women journalists to cover key issues.

They will be honored along with this year’s recipient of the ICFJ Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism, Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, at the International Center for Journalists’ 25th Anniversary Awards Dinner in Washington, DC, on November 12.

Cao, a reporter for the respected Southern Weekend, was one of the first on the scene of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He traveled by helicopter and hiked along cliffs to reach the devastated area, which was cut off from the world. His moving blog and newspaper coverage conveyed the despair, courage and resilience of the survivors. In 2007, when a flood in Jinan, Shandong Province’s capital city, killed 34 and injured 171, Cao exposed the cause: flaws in the city’s sewer system.

In another story he described how children in a remote village could get to school only by sliding along steel cables above the rushing Nu River. The public outpouring of support brought in more than $200,000, enough to build two bridges for the village. And in an article called “System,” Cao exposed the workings of a violent computer game called Warpath that requires players to spend real money to survive the game’s law of the jungle. Cao registered as a user and befriended long-time players as part of the research for his insightful report.

Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu uses community radio to report on the sexual violence against women in the lawless eastern section of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At great personal risk, the self-taught radio journalist traveled through refugee camps in remote regions to collect wrenching personal accounts from women traumatized by violence. In 12 years of conflict, more than six million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured.

“As a journalist who challenges long-held cultural beliefs and exposes the brutality of a regional war that is being fought on the bodies of women, Chouchou puts her life on the line each and every day,” said playwright Eve Ensler, one of those who nominated Namegabe for the award. Namegabe continues to face threats, especially after her powerful testimony in 2007 urging the International Court of Justice to classify rape as a political weapon in the Congo.

Namegabe also founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists and began equipping other women with microphones and radios to report more stories, including investigations of corruption and government mismanagement. In a culture in which women are shamed into silence, she has helped women find their voices and given them a support network to grow professionally as journalists.

“Our winners this year are fearless truth-tellers who won’t back down from a tough story, no matter the risks,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. “These journalists tell important stories that others have shied away from.”

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s José Zamora announced the winners at a reception on June 23 at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Zamora’s father, José Rubén Zamora, received the award in 2003 for his work as the publisher of Guatemala’s El Periódico.

Winners were nominated by seasoned journalists and Knight International Journalism Fellows, past and present. Members of the jury included Nick Clooney, distinguished journalist in residence at American University; Nikhil Deogun, deputy managing editor, international of the Wall Street Journal; Knight Fellow Susan Friedman, formerly a producer for NBC’s flagship series, “Dateline”; Erika Pontarelli Compart, deputy managing editor of Politico; Mark Whitaker, Washington bureau chief of NBC News; Johnny Yataco, publisher of Washington Hispanic; and ICFJ’s Barnathan.

The awards ceremony will take place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Nov. 12 in Washington, DC. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos will serve as Master of Ceremonies, and some 500 media luminaries will attend the event.