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Women Journalist Honoured 15 Nov 1997


NOVEMBER 1 -15, 1997

Women journalists honoured in New York for courage, initiative

By Ashali Varma

A young Indonesian journalist fights for press freedom in a repressive regime, an American photo journalist braves civil wars to “document compelling human drama” and a Mexican reporter starts an independent newspaper in one of the poorest states in Mexico despite intimidation from the establishment. For their tenacity, bravery and endurance, the three women journalists, received the “Courage in Journalism Award” by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) at a luncheon given in their honour at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, November 21.

Attended by the more than 500 people including  some of the nation’s leading journalists-the awards reaffirmed the Foundation’s commitment to “strengthen the role of women in the media worldwide.”

Tom Brokaw (NBC News) and Katherine Graham (The Washington Post Co.) were honorary co-chairs of the event and Judy Woodruff(CNN) served as chair of the courage awards. Television veterans Ed Bradley and Cokie Roberts joined the, proceedings to present the awards.

In his remarks, Brokaw brought home the fact that unlike the press in this society, protected by the First Amendment, journalists in many parts of the world “write and speak out at great personal peril”

In presenting the award to Corinne Dutka, chief photographer for Reuters in East Africa, Bradley said, that it takes a special kind of journalist to capture civil war-when you know that the subject you are photographing shooting someone can turn on you next.

Dutka, whose photo essays have captured the hate, evil and violence that turns neighbour against neighbour in civil wars from EI Salvador, Bosnia and Rwanda said, “As of late, we are called on to cover a different kind of war; wars not driven by a struggle against injustice and political oppression but instead by feelings of nationalism, tribalism and fundamentalism.”

She said, these wars are “about warlords and madmen who take the helm of a nation, tearing apart the lives of its people, and ruling by the perpetuation of hatred.”

Her photographs carried on front pages all over the world, depict the horror of senseless killing, of children carrying guns and mothers holding dead babies.

She spoke about her life as a photo journalist, saying, “How can you tell your family about seeing churches in Rwanda filled with hundreds upon hundreds of mutilated corpses or about the time a mortar shell exploded next to the two Bosnian soldiers you had just photographed alive 20 seconds ago?”

In her acceptance speech, Bina Bektiati from Indonesia, said, “I dedicate this award to all Indonesian journalists who still believe in and fight for freedom of the press.”

She added, “I live in a country of more than ten thousand islands where the majority of voices are voiceless.”

Bektiati at thirty is one of the youngest journalists to receive the prize. She used to write for a news weekly called Tempo in 1991 but in 1994 the magazine was banned and its license permanently revoked by the government. She was asked to join a new government-controlled paper called Gatra, but refused.

Instead, Bektiati helped to form a group-Alliance of Independent Journalists -dedicated to upholding the press freedom in Indonesia.

The price she has had to pay is that she, cannot write under her own name and no newspaper in Indonesia will give her a job.  “Being a journalist in Indonesia to quote my colleagues,” she said, “is liking walking -in a very dark tunnel”

Maribel Gutierrez Moreno from Mexico, who helped start the EI Sur, a newspaper that deals with human rights, social issues, politics and corruption, received the award for her commitment to report on human rights abuses even at cost of being put on a “blacklist” for writing about the activities of a local peasant group opposing government controls.

In June of 1995, Gutierrez published a series of in-depth articles covering the “caso Aguas Blancas” massacre of 17 unarmed peasants. El Sur’s coverage helped to unveil the role the government played in the massacre.