On 10 September 2020, the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon with its partner, the Samir Kassir Foundation, announced the results of the 15th edition of the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press, in a special televised talk-show on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI). This Award, established and funded by the European Union, is widely recognized internationally as a flagship prize for press freedom and the most prestigious journalism award in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions.
This year, marked globally by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of the tragic explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August, the Award sheds light on the vital need for independent, in-depth and quality reporting. Dynamic, independent media organisations are emerging in the region and playing an essential role in advocating for more accountability, transparency and access to information. In an ever more digital world, they are presenting a credible alternative and giving a voice to communities and population groups that are often marginalized or forgotten.
This Award rewards journalists who have distinguished themselves through the quality of their work and their commitment to human rights and democracy. This year 212 journalists participated in the competition from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. 85 candidates competed in the Opinion piece category, 84 in the Investigative article category, and 43 in the Audiovisual news report category. The winner in each of the three categories is awarded with a prize of €10,000. Each of the two runner-ups in every category receive a €1,000 prize.
Annually held at the beginning of June, to mark the 15th anniversary of the Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir’s assassination on 2 June 2005 in Beirut, this year the Award ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19 measures and was held in a new format adapted to the circumstances. The televised ceremony was hosted by Lebanese journalist Nicole Hajal and was followed by thousands of people across the region who viewed the broadcast on LBCI’s satellite channel worldwide and online on social media channels.
The winners of the 2020 Award are:
– Opinion piece category: Rim Ben Rjeb from Tunisia, born in 1990, a journalist specialized in gender issues. Her article entitled “« There is blood in panties »: Hafsa and the damned chromosome” was published in Jeem online magazine on 30 June 2019 and offers an intimate portrait of the author’s sister, born with Down syndrome, and a poignant reflexion around the sexual life of people with disabilities.
– Investigative article category: Mostafa Abu Shams from Syria, born in 1979, an investigative journalist based in Bordeaux, France. His report entitled “Children of the Unknown” was published by Al-Jumhuriya on 16 May 2019 and exposes the fate of 12,000 children born out of marriages of Syrian women and foreign fighters who had joined the Islamic State in Syria during the conflict. These children have no rights and receive no proper care from the authorities and parties involved in the Syrian conflict.
– Audiovisual news report category: Dalal Mawad from Lebanon, born in 1985, senior video producer with the Associated Press. Her report entitled “In Lebanon, a Transgender Woman Tells Her Story” was first aired on Daraj Media on 10 April 2019 and portrays a courageous transgender Lebanese woman and the ordeals she had to overcome in a very conservative society to remain true to herself.
EU Ambassador to Lebanon Ralph Tarraf said: “It is unacceptable that people are persecuted and prosecuted because of what they say, write or simply express on social media. No one, including journalists and other media actors, should be subject to violence, persecution, harassment and intimidation when doing their job and at any time. We stand for freedom of expression online and offline, and for combating impunity for crimes against journalists.”
Gisèle Khoury, President of the Samir Kassir Foundation, said that the role of the Foundation “is to provide a shield for the young men and women of the region who have decided to break free from fear. The Samir Kassir Award rewards the bravest journalists who say the truth and by doing so protect their society and prevent, through courageous and professional investigations, tragedies similar to the Beirut blast.”
An independent and mixed Arab and European jury of seven media professionals, scholars and human rights defenders selected the winners. This year’s jury gathered Bakhtiar Amin (Iraq), former Minister of Human Rights and former Chair of the Foundation for the Future; Thijs Berman (The Netherlands), Executive Director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy and former principal advisor of the OSCE representative on freedom of the media;Sam Dagher (Lebanon), award-winning author, journalist contributing to The Atlantic and fellow at the Middle East Institute; Farouk Mardam Bey (Syria/France), Director of Sindbad-Actes Sud publishing house and representative of the Samir Kassir Foundation in the jury; Bessma Momani (Jordan/Canada), Interim Assistant Vice-President and Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo; Audrey Pulvar (France), president of African Pattern and former news anchor and television host; and Cecilia Uddén Mannheimer (Sweden), Middle East Correspondent for the Swedish Radio.
For the first time in 2020, a new Students’ Prize was introduced. Students from Lebanese universities were given the chance to interact virtually with the 10 candidates who reached the final stage and debate with them key challenges that societies in general and journalists in particular face in the MENA and Gulf regions. Students voted for their favourite submission following the debate and elected Kamal Ayash from Iraq, for his article entitled “A Generation of Birth Defects in Fallujah: Fifteen Years after the Bombing of Phosphorus” published by Daraj Media on 3 April 2019. His article focuses on the consequences of chemical weapons used in the city of Fallujah on newborns and the lack of accountability and transparency around the matter.
Journalists have a vital role in providing facts, investigating matters and exposing the truth. By providing access to information, media professionals are contributing to accountability and transparency in their societies. The European Union proudly supports the Samir Kassir Award for Press Freedom. All information about the 2020 edition of the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press, the winning articles and audio-visual report, as well as biographies, articles and reports of all previous winners are available on the website www.samirkassiraward.org.
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