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Home > Publications > Quill > Inspiration from abroad


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Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Inspiration from abroad

By Bruce C. Swaffield

For persistent efforts in reporting the truth despite personal danger and imprisonment, two journalists from Mexico and China recently received international awards.

Li Changqing, who was released in February after three years in jail, won the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers, which represents 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries. Li was sentenced for “fabricating and spreading false terroristic information” of an outbreak of dengue fever in Fuzhou City in 2004.

Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, who has written extensively about child abuse and corruption throughout Mexico, earned the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Award from UNESCO. Since the 2005 publication of her book “The Demons of Eden: The Power That Protects Child Pornography,” Cacho has endured death threats, abduction and imprisonment.

Both journalists were commended for promoting freedom of the press and protecting civil rights.

In announcing the award to Li, a statement issued by WAN said, “The persecution of Mr. Li for reporting on a serious health threat reveals the nonsense and bankruptcy of the Chinese regime’s controlled press policies. The Chinese authorities have a long history of covering up events they prefer to keep secret, and Mr. Li’s courageous decision to report on this outbreak, knowing the possible consequences, is an inspiration to journalists everywhere.”

Chinese law forbids journalists from reporting information that has not been released officially by the government. Boxun News Network, which published details of the outbreak of dengue fever, stated in a Jan. 25, 2006, story that the Fuzhou government announced the outbreak about a month after it first appeared on Sept. 9, 2004, and that “It is perfectly true that [the] Fuzhou government tried to hide the incident.”

During his trial, according to a Washington Post story on Jan. 20, 2006, Li said he did not write the article that appeared on the Boxun Web site; rather, he merely provided the editors and reporters with a tip. Boxun is a Chinese Web site produced in the United States.

WAN made the presentation to Li on June 4 in Göteborg, Sweden, at the association’s annual convention. The award marks the second consecutive year that a Chinese journalist has received the Golden Pen of Freedom Award. Last year, Shi Tao was honored for his work in writing an e-mail about media restrictions prior to the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. The report was published on Internet sites around the world and, subsequently, picked up by Chinese authorities. Tao was charged with “leaking state secrets” and is serving 10 years in prison. His mother received the award in 2007 on his behalf.

In May, Cacho accepted the Cano Freedom Award from UNESCO in Maputo, Mozambique. During a speech, she expressed her gratitude as well as her commitment to keep fighting.

“This award may not protect me from death threats or from death itself,” she said. “But it certainly helps to protect my written work and to enable a broader audience to know and understand the Mexican reality and the impact of the global crimes of trafficking in persons and of child pornography.

“When I was tortured and imprisoned for publishing the story of a network of organized crime in child pornography and sex tourism, I was confronted with the enduring question of the meaning of life. Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by 300 powerful rich men? . . . Was it worth risking my life for my principles? Of course the answer was . . . yes.

“Every day I try to enlarge my ability to listen, to understand, to feel empathy, to question, to be truthful, to be ethical. By listening to people’s stories I learn ways to add insight and perspective to my coverage of human tragedy and human development. . . . journalists tend to believe that the shock provoked by reading such stories cannot fail to unite people of good will. That is one of the reasons we keep going against all odds. We know the power of compassion. As journalists we should never become messengers of the powers that be. Nor should we surrender to fear and self censorship.

“And that is why we are here in Mozambique. We know there is something wrong with a world that favors a war economy instead of education, that favors silence instead of freedom and truth, a world in which millions of children orphans of the HIV-AIDS pandemic are unimportant to the rest of the world. There is something wrong in a world where racism and sexism separates us from each other.”

The Cano World Press Freedom Award, named after a Colombian publisher assassinated in 1987, was given to Cacho because, “Members of the jury were impressed by the courage of Lydia Cacho Ribeiro as she continues to expose corruption, organized crime and domestic violence,” said Joe Thloloe, president of the editorial jury, on the UNESCO Web site. He added “For me, a journalist who knows the antagonistic environment in which he or she operates and continues to do the right thing by keeping readers, listeners or viewers informed about their society deserves recognition for their contribution to freedom of expression around the world.”

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