Three Women Praised as Journalism's Finest at International Media Gala

Nov 112014
  • Photo by Alexander Morozov.

Three female pioneers known for groundbreaking coverage and hard-hitting investigative reports were honored during the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) 30th Anniversary Awards in Washington, D.C.

The journalists are Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye, the first female editor at Nigeria’s largest-circulating newspaper, the Punch; Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab Wilhelm, whose stories have revealed corruption and public health threats in her native Mexico; and CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl, who has covered major national and international news throughout a distinguished career.

Ogunseye and Xanic were presented Knight International Journalism Awards, while Stahl was given ICFJ’s Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism for decades of high-caliber work.

In accepting her award, Stahl saluted the “intrepid, hero journalists overseas who just won’t give up” despite threats and other “dark clouds” over the profession. “There is definitely an imperative that drives many people in our profession.”

Nearly 600 media leaders, luminaries and supporters attended the event, during which a leading editor issued a call to action to protect journalists around the world.

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said “serious attention” should be given to the safety of journalists because autocratic governments and terrorist groups alike “see killing, kidnapping, maiming, and jailing reporters as all in a day’s work."

Referring to reporters James Foley and Steve Sotloff, whose public beheadings by Islamic terrorists shocked the world, Baron said the executions “stood also as a metaphor for the sinister designs of all those who do violence to journalism itself – silencing those who arm themselves with nothing more than pen, camera, and keyboard.”

Secretary of State John Kerry paid tribute to ICFJ for three decades of leadership in supporting freedom of expression and a more vibrant press across the world.

In a special video address, Kerry said ICFJ provides “an indispensable platform of support for journalists across the globe who are telling stories the world needs to hear – about human trafficking, organized crime, terrorist operations, human rights atrocities, violence against women, and the pandemic of corruption that is keeping so many countries from fulfilling their potential.”

CNN’s lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer was the event’s master of ceremonies for the third year in a row, while international photojournalist David Burnett donated 15 photos to ICFJ’s annual photo auction. Speaking at the awards dinner, Burnett said photographers are at the “center of the action during a conflict to document in images what cannot be told in words.”

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, presented the Knight Awards, which recognize excellent reporting that makes a difference in the lives of people around the world.

Ibargüen also announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be making a new $4.7 million, three-year grant to support Knight International Health Journalism Fellows in Africa. The grant will be used to boost the ability of African news media organizations to deliver high-quality health and development news that engages their audiences and leads to healthier behavior and better policies.

In addition, ICFJ announced that Vice Chair Pamela Howard would match every dollar donation, up to $300,000, and said some of the funds would be used to improve digital security for journalists.

ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan said the organization’s 30th year had been “a year of many firsts. We ran 70 programs, reaching a record 7,000 journalists, technologists, media managers, professors and students. We have created dozens of new digital tools, including mobile apps used by Nigerians in the fight against Ebola. We’ve launched the first hands-on journalism training center in Pakistan, and Latin America’s first digital media incubator.”

She said that over the past three decades, ICFJ has worked with 87,000 journalists in 180 countries. “Much of that work has been through our flagship program, the Knight International Journalism Fellowships.”

The Fellowships program receives major support from the Knight Foundation, with additional support from the Gates Foundation.