The 2014 “Journalist of the Year,” Sanjuana Martínez, is a freelance contributor to the Mexico City-based daily La Jornada who has been harassed and threatened because of her commitment to defending mistreated women and children.
The winner in the “media” category, Liberia’s Frontpage Africa, has proved that quality investigative journalism is possible despite government intimidation. The “netizen” category winner, Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raef Badawi, has paid with his freedom for his fight for the truth.
Awarded annually for the past 23 years and in partnership with TV5Monde since 2011, this prize aims to encourage, support and increase awareness of journalists, media and netizens that have made a notable contribution to the defence or promotion of freedom.
Held for the second year running at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, the award ceremony was attended by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary-general Christophe Deloire, RSF board chair Alain Le Gouguec, TV5Monde news director Pascal Guimier, Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries and a representative of the Council of Europe.
“This year’s press freedom prize jury included such prestigious figures as Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, and Michèle Montas, a former Haitian journalist who was Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“With violence against journalists reaching a hitherto unimaginable level of horror and scale this year, it is vital that we pay tribute to journalists, news media and netizens who have demonstrated a heroism of the kind that benefits millions of people.”
“As a French-language TV channel that projects the French-speaking world’s universal values in the 200 countries where we have a presence, TV5Monde’s reasons for being involved with Reporters Without Borders are obvious,” Pascal Guimier said.
“We are a loyal supporter of this prize because we want to demonstrate our commitment to those who constantly strive, sometimes at the cost of their lives, to cover this world in turmoil, this world beset by wars that pose an ever-growing threat to democracy and media freedom.”
Journalist of the Year Sanjuana Martínez received death threats after writing a book about sexual abuse by members of Mexico’s Catholic clergy. As well as her newspaper reporting, she has also written books about other alleged Catholic Church scandals, Mexican drug trafficking and immigration into the United States.
The recipient of many national journalism prizes, she was included in the US magazine Forbes’ September 2013 list of the country’s 50 most influential women. Mexico is the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for journalists, with more than 80 murdered since 2000 in a clear or probable connection with their work.
Frontpage Africa has distinguished itself for many years with rigorous investigative journalism that has shed light on many cases of corruption and nepotism within Liberia’s ruling elite. Its readiness to tackle taboo subjects and the reliability of its reporting, which is recognized internationally, have made it one of the main sources of information for the Liberian diaspora.
Its coverage of Liberia’s ongoing Ebola epidemic is a classic example of a country where journalists have to fight to work. Because it makes waves, the government resorts to all possible means to prevent it from publishing and, in 2013, it had to close for three months while its editor, Rodney Sieh, was in prison. Liberia is ranked 80th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Aged 32, Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raef Badawi helped to create the Liberal Saudi Network website as a forum for discussing political, religious and social issues in Saudi Arabia. It was because of the site, which the authorities have closed, that he was arrested in June 2012 for violating article 6 of a cyber-crime law banning content that “undermines public order, religious values, public decency or privacy.”
In July 2013, a court sentenced him to seven years in prison and 600 lashes on charges of violating Islamic values and spreading liberal ideas. In an appeal hearing in May 2014 that was marked by irregularities, the sentence was increased to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million riyals (about 200,000 euros) for “insulting Islam.” This was upheld by a Riyadh appeal court in September. Saudi Arabia is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Reporters Without Borders and TV5Monde also pay tribute to this year’s other nominees:
- In the “journalist” category: Sarmad Al-Ta’ I (Iraq), Ilya Azar (Russia), Tomislav Kezarovski (Macedonia), Bheki Makhubu (Swaziland), Hamid Mir (Pakistan) and James Risen (United States).
- In the “media” category: Malaysiakini (Malaysia), Radio Puca Opalaca (Honduras) and Turan (Azerbaijan).
- In the “netizen” category: Ilham Tohti (China), Emrah Uçar on behalf of the Ötekilerin Postasi website (Turkey) and Zone 9 (Ethiopia).