CPJ is honored to present its 2018 International Press Freedom Award to Venezuelan journalist Luz Mely Reyes.
Investigative reporter Luz Mely Reyes has covered politics in her native Venezuela for more than 25 years. Her first day as a reporter coincided with former President Hugo Chávez's first coup attempt in 1992.
Reyes began her journalism career at a local newspaper in the coastal city of Maracay. She then moved to Caracas, the capital, where she worked as a freelancer and covered politics for the daily newspaper El Nacional.
In 2002, she became politics editor at Últimas Noticias, which at the time was the country's most popular daily newspaper. She led the outlet's investigative unit from 2005 until 2012, when she was named editor-in-chief of Diario 2001, becoming the first woman to hold this position at a national newspaper in Venezuela. The next year, the national attorney general's office launched an investigation into the paper, alleging it had published false information and demanding to see Reyes' sources. Reyes quit the paper in 2015 and co-founded the independent news website Efecto Cocuyo, along with fellow journalists Laura Weffer and Josefina Ruggiero, to work on "journalism we believed in."
The website, which grew from three reporters with an iPad to a team of nine contributors and 12 full-time employees with the help of a successful crowdfunding campaign and supportive donors, has become a champion of independent journalism.
Reyes and her team at Efecto Cocuyo host training workshops and panel discussions, and collaborate on investigative projects with international journalism organizations as well as news outlets from Mexico, Peru, and Colombia.
Press freedom has steadily deteriorated in Venezuela, where journalists reporting on the country's growing political, economic, and human rights crises are doing so under dangerous and repressive conditions. Scores of journalists, including those from Efecto Cocuyo, were attacked and threatened while covering violent protests that erupted against the government of President Nicolás Maduro in 2017.
The text of Luz Mely Reyes' acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.
I am grateful and honored to be here tonight.
On February 4, 1992, just a rookie journalist, I awoke to news of a coup. As I prepared for work, my mother begged me to stay, afraid for my safety. I hugged her, asked for her blessing, and said: I have to go, because I am a journalist.
Political changes and political violence have marked my life as a journalist. But 2017 was different. Reporters covered the protests wearing helmets, bulletproof vests, and gas masks.
My young colleagues saw protesters their age fall, fighting for freedom. These young journalists have never known total freedom, yet they defend it through their work.
One day, watching my son, a photojournalist, leave dressed as if for war, I said: Be careful, don't leave me without a son.
Some numbers we know. In 2018, 45 journalists around the world have been killed for their work.
Others numbers we don't know: when a journalist is killed, how many more are silenced? When one is imprisoned, how many fall quiet?
In Venezuela, journalism is an endangered species. Sixty percent of the local press has disappeared. Newsrooms look like ghost towns. More than 1,000 journalists have emigrated or gone into exile. But we are stubborn. Amid the darkness, Venezuelan journalists find a way.
I share this award with my team at Efecto Cocuyo--an independent outlet created thanks to the genius, commitment, and tenacity of my colleagues Laura Weffer and Josefina Ruggiero, entrepreneurs Carlos Aguiló and Jose Monagas, and a leap of faith by three students. Our young team's commitment and talent reinforces our faith in this new generation.
I dedicate this to those who helped make our idea a reality. And to our relatives, who support us through adversity.
Thank you to my mother, Elba Rosa, my son Ivan and my husband Denis--my pillars.
Above all, thank you to my colleagues, who resist despair while telling stories of a nation that refuses to die.