Umar Cheema Accepts the Knight International Journalism Award
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
I am greatly honored to receive this prestigious award. My heartfelt congratulations go to two outstanding journalists who are also being honored tonight.
We may live in different worlds and face different challenges. Yet, we are brought together for one purpose: that is to re-affirm our resolve that courageous and quality journalism is our common goal.
Free media is a universal ideal, but its value differs universally. Those who are granted freedom take it for granted. Those deprived of freedom, die for it. In places like Pakistan, journalists are free to speak, write and publish – but at their own risk.
I faced several challenges on my way here, but each only strengthened me. People praise me for the resilience I showed in the face of adversity. But I tell them I did what a journalist should do. The problems I faced are part of our profession. They remind us that our work hits hard on the high and mighty who do not consider themselves accountable. It is essential to send a strong message that we cannot be cowed into submission.
People in Pakistan know there is pervasive corruption. But quality journalism explains how money changes hands, and favors are traded under the veil of secrecy.
People in Pakistan know that the rich do not pay taxes. But the devil is in the details. Our report on taxation showed them how many tax evaders were sitting in Parliament. The evidence had a real impact on them.
Tax authorities must now verify that all candidates in elections disclose their taxes. This is how journalism makes a difference.
The report on taxes was released by the Center of Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, which I set up with like-minded journalists. A new report on the taxes will be released this month by the Center.
We need to overcome big challenges to make the Center a success. We need to train journalists, especially in data journalism. We need funding for our projects. And we need more protection because we still face great danger.
I understand that you are no strangers to the difficult situation for media in Pakistan. Despite this, our journalists have persisted in the face of extreme hardships.
I am also aware of the changing media scene in the United States—a country that has unique constitutional guarantees of a free press. The state of media emerging in the US—and elsewhere—after the Snowden episode, the prosecution of whistle blowers, and electronic surveillance of journalists poses a serious test of freedom.
So while the nature of the challenge may differ in Russia, Pakistan and the United States, certainly media everywhere are threatened by hostile forces.
No one sitting here needs to be reminded that in countries that support press freedom, media have rarely been at peace with their governments. As the British publisher Lord Northcliff said: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising.”
So don’t be surprised when the keepers of truth try to keep it in the dark.
We are the seekers of truth struggling to bring it to light.
No government is more powerful than the truth and we have to stand by it.