Internews Presents the 2009 Recipients of its Media Leadership Awards
by Mitchell Polman
While we were getting a glimpse into the activities of the new President in the NBC Special Inside the Obama White House, Internews, the non-profit headed by board chair Kathy Bushkin-Calvin, held its third annual Media Leadership Awards at the Washington offices of DLA Piper.
What makes this significant is that Internews trains journalists to and media professionals the traditions and advantages of having free press around the world.
A crowd of journalists, diplomats, government officials, and NGO workers gathered to hear the inspiring stories of this year’s honorees from Pakistan, Thailand, and Haiti, and photojournalist James Nachtwey. The event was chaired by Washington Capitals owner and former AOL executive Ted Leonsis. Radio broadcaster Bob Edwards was on hand as master of ceremonies.
The honorees included:
- Ms. Tasneem Ahmar — Director of the Uks Research Center (“Uks” means reflection). Ms. Ahmar works to educate the Pakistani media on women’s issues and to improve the image of women in the Pakistani media.
- Ramak — a network of 41 community radio stations in Haiti. Ramak’s coordinator general, Mr. Jean Fedner-Chery accepted the award for Ramak.
- Mr. Thepchai Yong — founder of the first public broadcasting service in Thailand.
- Mr. James Nachtwey — photojournalist and subject of the Oscar nominated documentary “War Photographer”.
Ms. Ahmar organizes female production teams that provides positive stories on women to the Pakistani media. Her producers created a series of programs about women in Pakistan’s military, including women fighter pilots, and sent them out for broadcast. Ms. Ahmar says that she hopes that her work will lead to the greater empowerment of women in Pakistan and change their image not only in Pakistan, but in the world.
Mr. Fedner-Chery’s network, RAMAK, broadcasts to 80% of Haiti. It empowers ordinary citizens to participate in the gathering and production of news so that citizens will work to solve their problems at the grassroots level. He described RAMAK’s work as democratizing the word “communications” and that, “since the birth of these radio stations in our country, violence against journalists has diminished”. RAMAK especially encourages stories on environmental protection and women’s rights.
Mr. Yong spoke about how his network’s most popular show is a nightly three minute program that allows villagers, including members of minority groups, to simply give their thoughts into a camera or to create a story on their own. Mr. Yong described this as “giving space to the public” and said that in Thailand it is “unprecedented”. He said his greatest challenge in the beginning was explaining to the public that his public broadcasting operation was not a government mouthpiece. When accepting his award Mr. Yong talked about how his network has become all the more important of late given Thailand’s serious political problems because it is “making an important contribution to the democratization of the country”.
Mr. Nachtwey in his acceptance speech spoke less of his own work and more of the work of other journalists around the world, especially of the writers and photographers that he had met that were caught-up in civil conflicts. He thanked colleagues from the locations hat he has worked in saying, “They are much more vulnerable than I who was only visiting”.
Internews provided key support to all of the awardees. Mr. Leonsis points-out that in today’s media environment it is getting harder and harder for new media operations to get such support. Of Internews he said, “they bear hug young journalists” and “they are really doing the Lord’s work”. Bob Edwards told me that he became involved with Internews’ work through friends of his who were involved in helping media in Third World countries and that he is “happy to be a part of it”. As Kathy Bushkin-Calvin, Internews’ board chair said in her concluding remarks, “Journalism is more than a business. It is a service industry and we are the service”.