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International Press Freedom Awardees, from left, Mikhail Zygar, Ferial Haffajee, Aung Zaw, and Siamak Ghaderi. (Getty/Bryan Thomas)

Four journalists honored for commitment to press freedom

November 26, 2014 1:12 PM ET

New Initiatives Fund set up to help combat 'war on journalists'

New York, November 26, 2014--Four journalists from Burma, Iran, Russia, and South Africa were honored Tuesday night at the Committee to Protect Journalists' 24th annual International Press Freedom Awards for their work in defiance of imprisonment, repression, and censorship.

"Those who are threatened by information believe that silencing journalists will prevent the global community from knowing what's happening inside a given country. CPJ is proud to honor four courageous journalists who refused to be silenced," said Sandra Mims Rowe, CPJ's chairman of the board.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and dinner chairman, opened the awards ceremony by announcing: "There is a new war on journalists. Today's terrorists will kill a journalist not to stop a story, but to create one. Tonight you will hear the stories of journalists who risk everything so we may see the world the way it really is."

The dinner, at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, raised a record $1.9 million for CPJ's worldwide press freedom advocacy. To show support for this year's honorees and reporters across the globe who confront the war on journalists daily, Ibargüen also announced a commitment of an additional $858,000 from the New Initiatives Fund, a newly created network of several funders including Knight Foundation. A special appeal during the evening raised $235,635. Those funds were matched one-to-one by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The total amount raised for the event was more than $2.7 million.

Iranian freelance journalist Siamak Ghaderi, who was released in July after spending four years in prison, received his International Press Freedom Award from journalist Maziar Bahari, who was jailed in Iran in 2009. Ghaderi had previously been an editor and reporter for the Islamic Republic's official news agency IRNA. Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices Online, presented an award to Burmese journalist Aung Zaw, founder and editor-in-chief of The Irrawaddy, which was branded an "enemy of the state" by the former military regime and still comes under pressure from the current Burmese government. Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, honored Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief for the Russian independent TV channel Dozhd, which provides a rare alternative to Kremlin-controlled federal stations. Clarence Page, a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist from the Chicago Tribune, presented Ferial Haffajee, editor-in-chief of City Press in South Africa, with her award. Haffajee has faced fierce criticism and threats of violence against herself and her staff for critical stories published under her leadership. Recently freed International Press Freedom Awardee Nguyen Van Hai, who was in prison when his award was presented in 2013, delivered a powerful speech on Tuesday night, calling for the release of journalists worldwide.

Dinner host Christiane Amanpour, international correspondent for CNN, presented Jorge Ramos, co-anchor on the award-winning evening newscast "Noticiero Univision" (Univision News), with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for his lifetime commitment to press freedom.

A video produced for Tuesday's event by ABC News profiled CPJ's Journalist Assistance Program. "We have to ensure that journalists who are threatened as a result of their work know that there's a community that stands behind them. That there's an organization that's committed to providing support. And that if they get in trouble as a result of their work they're not alone," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

From the stage, Diane Foley, the mother of American journalist James Foley who was killed in Syria in August, said: "Jim's life challenges us to continue his passions for freedom of the press and commitment to those in poverty or ravaged by war."

The newly announced New Initiatives Fund is supported by a network made up of the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, and the New Venture Fund, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The fund will enable faster and better data and reports, and strengthen analysis and advocacy. CPJ will increase interventions and referrals on safety issues, particularly for reporters without institutional support, such as freelance or local journalists.

Note to editors: High-resolution photos of the awardees and the awards dinner will be made available via Facebook and Flickr by CPJ and Getty Images. Video profiles of the awardees and speeches from the dinner are available here: http://cpj.org/awards. For social media we are using the hashtags #IPFA and #FreeThePress.

CPJ is a global, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide

Media Contacts:

Samantha Libby

Communications Associate

[email protected]

+1 212-300-9032

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