Media freedom around the world has been on a downward trajectory for many years. Data in the 2019 Legatum Prosperity Index shows that physical repression of journalists, government censorship of the press, and freedom of opinion and expression, are all at lower levels this year than they were a decade ago.
The Legatum Institute’s Courage in Journalism Award is given posthumously each year to a journalist who has been killed as a direct result of their work. It seeks to shine a light on the dangers facing journalists around the world and to recognise and remember those who have died while simply doing their job. The Award was inaugurated following the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 as a way of honouring her death and continuing her legacy.
The Courage in Journalism Award 2020
Raed Fares, founder and director of the independent Syrian radio station Radio Fresh, was shot and killed along with his colleague Hamoud al-Jnaid by unknown gunmen on 23rd November 2018, whilst on his way to cover a protest in Kafranbel. Fares had been targeted on numerous occasions before, including being abducted multiple times and tortured by al-Qaeda militants. In 2014 he survived an assassination attempt by members of the Islamic State.
Despite these attacks, Fares continued his work and remained a frequent critic of Islamist extremists in Syria. He was keenly aware of the risks he was taking but continued to use his voice to build the foundations for a free, democratic Syria.
Raed Fares was a larger-than-life character who deployed a unique presenting style on Radio Fresh. One of his main weapons was humour, which he used to great effect in his opposition to the Assad regime. His unconventional approach to broadcasting was a sign of defiance against hardline Islamic factions who had demanded that he stopped playing music or broadcasting female voices.
Prior to his death, Fares had also worked as a prominent activist. He served as Director of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, a collective of civil society organisations in Kafranbel that encompassed a wide range of projects including medical services, therapy for teenagers, women’s empowerment projects, and media training.
Mike Thomson, BBC World Affairs Correspondent and one of the Courage in Journalism Award judges, said: “Raed Fares is most certainly a very worthy recipient of this award. I had the privilege of getting to know him a little and was constantly inspired by his extraordinary courage and enduring optimism in the face of relentless threats to his life. He was well known for his use of wit and humour as both a broadcaster and protester, which he used to draw international attention to the continued violence in Syria. Fares knew the dangers he was in but never let these stop him.”
You can listen to the podcast of Mike Thomson’s remarks from his keynote speech here.
You can listen to Mike Thomson’s documentary on Raed Fares ‘The Man Who Laughed at al-Qaeda’ on BBC Sounds.
The 55 Nominees for the 2020 Courage in Journalism Award
In reviewing the journalists who were killed this year, our research uncovered a total of 55 journalists who died between October 2018 and October 2019. Of those, 43 were killed as a direct result of their journalism, and the remaining 12 died in the course of doing their job.
It emerged that Mexico was the most dangerous place to be a journalist, with 12 journalists killed between October 2018 and October 2019. Other countries with high death rates for journalists in that year include Pakistan, where eight journalists were killed, Afghanistan, where six journalists were killed, and Syria, where five journalists were killed. Concerningly, the majority of these killings have not been investigated and it is unlikely that justice will be brought – in particular in Mexico, where levels of impunity are continuing to rise.
We recently interviewed Anabel Hernández, a Mexican journalist and author, who has received numerous death threats since writing about the drug cartels, and the alleged collusion between government officials in Mexico and the drug lords. She has since been forced to go into exile.
Nathan Gamester of the Legatum Institute commented: “With media freedoms continuing to be threatened and undermined around the world, it is essential to highlight the fundamental role that free and fair journalism plays in healthy societies.
“In some countries, being a journalist is just about the most dangerous thing you can do; those same countries are usually the ones where citizens rely most on the information provided by journalists. This award honours the legacy of those who have paid the ultimate price in their pursuit of truth.”
You can watch the full Courage in Journalism Award ceremony here. The video includes a panel discussion with Abeer Saady of the Ethical Journalism Network, and Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network; Mike Thomson’s keynote speech; along with Nathan Gamester’s opening remarks.
Last year’s recipient of the Courage in Journalism Award was Jan Kuciak, a Slovakian investigative journalist whose death sparked political upheaval in Slovakia. You can read more here.