The Courage In Journalism Awards' Bravest Female Journalists Of 2016
It can be an exceptionally dangerous and brutal world for journalists. Between state censorship, repression, and violence, revealing the truth about world events can be deeply confronting to both personal safety and the right to free speech. The UN named Nov. 2 "International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists," and this commemoration highlights the dangers faced by members of the press: in the past decade, it was estimated that over 700 journalists were killed worldwide while on the job. And women journalists certainly aren't safer than anybody else: a Dutch journalist covering the Arab Spring was gang-raped in Tahrir Square, Egypt, while in Turkey female journalists can have their rights to their children stripped if they criticize the "wrong people." The 2012 death of Marie Colvin, the award-winning American war correspondent, in Syria was among the most high-profile of deaths in what can be a very dangerous career.
But The International Women's Media Foundation is trying to support those who fight regardless, and have set up a yearly award to highlight the bravest women facing down serious obstacles in their pursuit of journalistic truth, the Courage In Journalism Awards. The 2016 winners were officially announced Tuesday last night, and you need to know their names. Alongside a lifetime achievement award for Diane Rehm, the legendary political radio talk show host (who is retiring in 2017 to advocate for right-to-die charities across the U.S.), the Courage In Journalism Awards highlighted three women whose efforts to uncover the truth have bettered the world while considerably risking their own personal safety and health.
The trio have tackled everything from torture in Syria to gender violence in India and Peruvian corruption, and in the process fought colossal and sometimes ridiculous obstacles to keep working. Even though the world is a terrifying place, at least we've still got heroes like these to push things forward.
Cáceres is one of the lights on the Peruvian media landscape, and has been for decades: she started the independent journal El Búho (The Owl) in 2000 after having a previous effort shut down by the Peruvian government. "I was directing a local TV channel owned by a university in 1999. The university, its authorities and the channel succumbed to the regime of President Alberto Fujimori," she told the Media Development Investment Fund, one of its supporters, in 2015. "The newscast was suspended for a year." Since then, despite Fujimori himself being toppled, El Búho has been a thorn in the side of the censorship regime in the country, exploring everything from corruption to the exploitation of natural resources and cover-ups in the Peruvian government. Understandably, that has earned her a lot of enemies.
Reporters Without Borders, naming her one of their 100 Information Heroes, explained that the attempts to silence Cáceres and El Búho have been varied and intense: "She has been the target of no fewer than 13 lawsuits in the past two years, which must be a record in Latin America. In spite of the protection provided by a Peruvian NGO, she keeps receiving frequent death threats." One of said death threats was a packaged with the severed genitals of a bull and a threatening note, which is charming.
Janine di Giovanni
As far as European war journalism goes, Janine di Giovanni is as close to a household name as you can get. The Middle East editor for Newsweek and contributing editor for Vanity Fair, she was named one of the 100 people worldwide with the most influence on reducing armed conflict by Action On Armed Violence in recognition of her years of (often harrowing) war reporting. Her latest effort is likely the one that clinched the award for her: The Morning They Came For Us, a collection of reporting from the war in Syria in 2012, was published earlier in 2016 and utterly transfixed the world press with its unflinching portrayal of the brutalities of the conflict (she was, she reports, paralyzed at the thought of cutting her son's nails because of memories of torture victims who'd had theirs removed). She also talked extensively, in a war memoir in 2011, of her own PTSD, which drove her to hoard bandages and cash around her Parisian home after the birth of her son and ravaged both her and her ex-husband.
"I think we live in a world post-9/11 that is increasingly dangerous, and not just for journalists," she told Vogue earlier this year. "I live in Paris, and my au pair's best friend was killed in the terrorist attacks on November 13, while a friend of mine was shot through the shoulder. The world is a very different—and more confused—place than it used to be. But will I keep doing this work? Of course. I have to. I feel that this is a calling of some sort. We all have our talents, and I know that mine is to go to these places and to bring back the stories of people whose stories need to be told."
Paul's main focus is India, and one of her most award-winning subjects is the environment; she is a multiple winner at the Asian Environmental Journalism Awards (AEJA), including a 2013 win for Environmental Story of the Year for a story entitled "Drought drives rural Indian women into city sex trade." But that's only one of many feathers in her cap: she's also written extensively about the fight to end child marriage, gender violence in rural India, ending slavery, and other issues. She's won a host of other awards and fellowships to join her AEJA prizes, from places as diverse as the U.N. and the DART Center for Journalism & Trauma.
Paul's achievements haven't come without cost: the IWMF notes that "death threats, threats against the welfare and safety of her family, detention, and physical harassment" have been her daily lot since she started her journalism career nine years ago. "There wasn't a single time when I was in the field for a story and people didn't try to touch or molest me," Paul told the Uncovering Asia Conference in 2016. "They think that because I am a woman, they can intimidate me." Wrong.