Jose Carlos Zamora: Announcing Winners of Knight International Journalism Award

I am thrilled to be here on behalf of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to announce the 2009 Knight International Journalism Award winners.

I am just down from Boston from another Knight announcement. Last week, we named the 2009 winners of the Knight News Challenge. The winning projects use crowdsourcing, mobile technology and digital investigative journalism to bring news and information to communities in new ways. The nine winners make up the third round of the five-year, $25 million Knight News Challenge, an international contest to find innovative ways to deliver news and information to specific communities around the world.

Knight Foundation believes passionately in investing in projects with the potential to create transformational change. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression.

Knight Foundation has sponsored the Knight International Journalism Fellowships for 16 years. Knight Fellows are establishing new journalism schools, new journalism associations, new digital platforms for sharing content and new networks of online journalism, among other projects. These awards are an integral part of that work.

Each year, the Knight International program honors individuals who raise the standards of media excellence in their countries despite overwhelming odds. The recipients exemplify the best in our profession. This award has a very important meaning for me as well. In 2002, thugs attacked my father, the publisher of elPeriódico in Guatemala, in our home. They were trying to intimidate us into stopping the paper’s investigative reporting.

In 2003, ICFJ gave him the Knight International Journalism Award to recognize the paper’s outstanding journalism and his courage in bringing independent news to the people of Guatemala despite threats to the lives of him and our family. This award has meant so much to him because it has validated all the sacrifices he made in the name of quality journalism. In my eyes these awards are also invaluable, because they represent international support that allows journalists to pursue the fair, accurate and contextual search for truth, a truth that can lead to dramatic consequences. Since 1992, 735 journalists have been killed for bringing to light issues that affect their communities. (An average of 40 journalists a year)

This award not only validates the professionalism and sacrifices of the amazing journalists we will be announcing today, but also allows them to practice the most professional, rigorous, objective and ethical journalism. Journalism that is a vital to strengthen communities and democracy.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me, six years after my father was recognized, to work for the foundation that funds these awards and to be here tonight to announce the 2009 winners.

I am proud to announce that the 2009 Knight International Journalism Award winners are: Cao Junwu (TSAO JOOWIN WOO) of China and Chouchou (CHOO CHOO) Namegabe Nabintu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Cao, a reporter for the respected Southern Weekend, was one of the first reporters at the scene of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. To get there he traveled by helicopter and hiked along cliffs to reach the devastated area, which was cut off from the world. His moving blog and newspaper coverage conveyed the despair, courage and resilience of the survivors. In 2007, when a flood in Jinan, Shandong Province’s capital city, killed 34 and injured 171, Cao exposed the cause: flaws in the city’s sewer system. In another story he described how children in a remote village could get to school only by sliding along steel cables above the rushing Nu River. The public outpouring of support brought in more than $200,000, enough to build two bridges for the village.

In an article called “System,” Cao exposed the workings of a violent computer game called Warpath that requires players to spend real money to survive the game’s law of the jungle. Cao registered as a user and befriended long-time players as part of the research for his insightful report.

Chouchou Namegabe Nabintu uses community radio to report on the sexual violence against women in the lawless eastern section of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At great personal risk, the self-taught radio journalist traveled through refugee camps in remote regions to collect wrenching personal accounts from women traumatized by violence. In 12 years of conflict, more than six million people have died and hundreds of (CK) thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured.

Namegabe continues to face threats, especially after her powerful testimony in 2007 urging the International Court of Justice to classify rape as a political weapon in the Congo.

Namegabe also founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists and began equipping other women with microphones and radios to report more stories, including ones about corruption and government mismanagement. In a culture in which women are shamed into silence, she has helped women find their voices and given them a support network to grow professionally as journalists.

This year’s recipients will be honored at ICFJ’s Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, DC, on November 12, along with Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, who will receive the Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism. ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos will be the master of ceremonies.

We are proud of Knight International’s achievements and we are especially proud of this year’s Knight International Journalism Award winners. They are outstanding examples of journalists committed to the highest standards of the profession,

Now, I would like to give the floor back to Joyce. Thank you.