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International Female Journalists Celebrated For Courage

Sarah Collins |
October 29, 2014 | 5:03 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

CNN's Lisa Ling presenting at the awards. (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)
CNN's Lisa Ling presenting at the awards. (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)

The International Women’s Media Foundation hosted its 25th annual Courage in Journalism Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday to honor four groundbreaking female journalists from across the globe. 

The Courage in Photojournalism Award went to the late German-born Anja Niedringhaus, who dedicated her life to documenting wars and their effects on local peoples until she was tragically killed in April this year while covering the upcoming Afghani presidential elections. Other Courage in Journalism Award winners were CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon, Le Souverain’s Editor-in-Chief Solange Lusiku Nsimire and television reporter Brankica Stankovic from Serbian network RTV B92's news program, Insider.

Born by a Syrian mother and American father, Damon told the audience she felt compelled “to create and establish understanding” after the attacks on 9/11 changed her world. The “punk with a nose ring,” as she described herself at that time, packed up her bags and left New York to cover Iraq and the Middle East as a freelance producer until she officially joined CNN in 2006. Since then, she has reported on hot-button stories like the trial and execution of President Saddam Hussein and Egyptian protests against then-President Mubarak. Nearly every day on the job is a great risk to Damon’s life, as she constantly comes under fire by government forces and risks kidnapping and arrest.

Damon remained humble while accepting her award. “I choose to confront these dangers,” she said. “[The other recipients] are forced to live with them everyday.” 

Solange Lusiku Nsimire. Nsimire won the Courage in Journalism Award on Tuesday for her work as editor-in-chief of Le Souverain, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)
Solange Lusiku Nsimire. Nsimire won the Courage in Journalism Award on Tuesday for her work as editor-in-chief of Le Souverain, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)

For her work in one of the most volatile regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where reports of women's abuse surface regularly and journalists are threatened to be “killed like animals,” Nsimire received the prize for an awe-inspiring determination to write the truth. Dressed in colorful Congolese fashion, Nsimire accepted the award in her native tongue.

“Women’s rights are abused in Congo because there’s no democracy,” she said.

For the past seven years in her position, the editor-in-chief has pushed her reporters to expose abuse and corruption, for which they face serious danger, even execution. In one year alone, Nsimire’s home was attacked three times, once during which her husband and children were tied up and questioned.

In spite of the adversity, Nsimire carries a positive disposition. “Journalism is a noble profession. I love journalism,” she said. “There is a rampant fear [in the Congo] of speaking out against the authorities. But I will do it, always.” 

A similar narrative spans across to Serbia, where self-censorship is rampant and the government has been said to legally threaten journalists. But that doesn’t keep Stankovic from her work. The reporter described herself as living in an “action-packed thriller," facing regular attempts on her life and being forced to go into hiding. As a further precaution, at least four police officers accompany her 24/7. “I can’t even take out the trash by myself,” she said.

Stankovic’s career took a radical turn in 2009 after her news channel aired an investigative story on the interconnection of young adults, gang violence and political figures.

She said the response was frighteningly violent. At a publicly aired soccer game, a group of hooligans held up a rubber doll intended to represent her, mangling it and shouting threats and profanities like “whore” until someone stabbed it.

Even in these conditions, however, Stankovic said she chose this life and wouldn’t have it any other way. “In every country, there is always someone who will die because others are trying to protect information,” she said. “Our motto is that journalists work for the public.” 

Alongside the honorees were a score of celebrities, including actress and activist Olivia Wilde and Glamour Magazine’s Cindi Leive, who hosted. CNN’s Lisa Ling, actress Kate Hudson and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin presented the awards. 

Everyone in attendance had nothing but praise and admiration for the women. “The courageous journalists we are supporting here tonight are creating a better future for all of us around the world,” said director of USC's Annenberg School of Journalism, Willow Bay. 

Honoree Arwa Damon from CNN. (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)
Honoree Arwa Damon from CNN. (Sarah Collins/Neon Tommy)

For the USC Annenberg student journalists at the event, the winners were nothing short of welcoming. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” Damon told Neon Tommy.

Nsimire, who doesn't speak English, gave out warm hugs of approval.

“We started, but you all have to finish,” Edith Lederer, winner of the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award, told students. “Keep trying and don’t expect anything to be easy.” 

Journalism students lapped it up. "Besides the award's recipients, who obviously are courageous individuals and journalists, there are so many individuals and journalists out in the world who are reporting and experiencing things that the majority of people... cannot possibly imagine going through," said USC Annenberg sophomore Kate Guarino. "I think the ultimate honor for [the recipients] is number one, telling the story, and number two, being honored by each other, because they share not only the award but a similar experience."

Reach Staff Reporter Sarah Collins here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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