Feature Story

ICFJ Founders Award Recipient John F. Burns Says U.S. Still is a Shining City on a Hill

U.S. now turning the corner after a reaching a low point in world opinion, says keynote speaker Christiane Amanpour

By Michelle Mathew

An Armchair Conversation with George Stephanopoulos and Christiane Amanpour.

Washington, DC -- Eminent New York Times foreign correspondent, John F. Burns, who on Wednesday received ICFJ's 2008 Founders Award, spoke of his deep and abiding respect for America, a country that uses its military and political might “mainly for good.”

Burns, speaking at ICFJ's Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., joined CNN's Christiane Amanpour in acknowledging that recent U.S. actions have cost America international support and respect. Amanpour was the keynote speaker at the event.

Burns, recalling the days when the United States was seen as a “shining city on the hill," said America needed to regain that standing in the eyes of the world. He said he believes the United States, now facing economic turmoil and dealing with two major wars, has the ability to regenerate and overcome these problems, as it has in the past. Burns said it’s America's role and responsibility to prevail and again take its place as the world's moral leader.

John F. Burns, center, speaks with ICFJ Board members Marcus Brauchli of the Washington Post and James F. Hoge, Jr., of Foreign Affairs.

Reflecting on the theme of America's renewal, Amanpour recalled the long lines of voters she saw in New York on Nov. 4, election day. She said the mood of the people waiting to cast their ballots reminded her of elections in countries where people were voting for the first time in democratic elections. In New York, people were not complaining about the lines, she said. Instead, the mood was celebratory.

Amanpour recalled many of the elections and political transitions she has observed and covered during her 20 years as a reporter for CNN – political turning points in Afghanistan, Iraq and especially South Africa, where millions of blacks lined up to vote for the first time in their lives and elected Nelson Mandela.

In a question-and-answer session with Master of Ceremonies George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Amanpour spoke about the world's changing view of America. When asked about the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo, she said the United States should close Guantanamo, which she said has been a blot on America’s image.

Amanpour said it is vital that she and other journalists continue to go out and tell these stories – not just stories about crisis, desperation and fear, but stories about solutions and resolution that give hope to people around the world.

In addition to honoring the work of distinguished journalists like Burns and Amanpour, the dinner was an occasion to highlight ICFJ's mission and new initiatives. Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a new initiative: the African Development Journalism Fellowships, an innovative three-year program that will improve news coverage of critical development issues such as agriculture, employment, microfinance and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa. This journalism fellowship program is funded by a $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

From left: Alberto Ibarguen of the Knight Foundation, Joyce Barnathan of ICFJ, Christiane Amanpour of CNN and James F. Hoge, Jr., of Foreign Affairs.

Ibargüen also presented this year’s Knight International Journalism Awards, which honor journalists who are committed to excellence despite daunting conditions. This year's winners: Belarus’ Aliaksei Karol of Novy Chas and Uganda’s Frank Nyakairu of Reuters and The Independent. Karol, an independent voice in a country that represses the media and free speech, accepted his award on behalf of fellow Belarusian journalists who are battling for press freedom. Nyakairu, who has risked his life to cover the wars and human-rights abuses that plague his native Uganda and neighboring countries, called for a moment of silence to remember journalists around the world who have lost their lives on the job.

Another highlight of the evening: A unique photo auction. The Power of Elections: A Tribute to Photojournalists, captured pivotal moments in history such as Hillary Clinton’s concession speech during the recent U.S. Democratic primary and Lyndon B. Johnson campaigning on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s. Proceeds from the auction will support ICFJ programs and be used to buy equipment for photojournalists in developing countries.

In her closing remarks ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan said, "Our colleagues on the podium tonight set the standard for journalists around the world. They represent quality. They are courageous. They stand up for a free press and free speech. They are the types of journalists ICFJ supports. "