I spent nearly four decades as a newspaper reporter and editor before coming to the State Department. Some of that time was spent in conflict zones. I thought I’d seen a lot. But I was amazed by the courage of three journalists who were honored the other night at a dinner sponsored by the International Center for Journalists.
The ICFJ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting an independent press worldwide. It runs training programs and advocates on important issues related to journalism. Each year, the group also honors journalists of exceptional courage. That’s what was on the menu Thursday night when nearly 600 journalists and their supporters gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building here in Washington.
Wolf Blitzer of CNN was the master of ceremonies. Nick Kristof of The New York Times delivered a stirring keynote speech. Secretary of State John F. Kerry was shown in a video praising the winners as “truth tellers in a noble cause.”
If we can pause a moment for a plug, I will say that the State Department in general, and the public affairs and public diplomacy arms in particular, work around the world to promote independent journalism and the cause of free speech. End of plug.
But the highlight was the three winners. They come from diverse backgrounds, but they share a common belief that the pursuit of truth is indeed a noble cause. And they share the common experience of pursuing that truth in the face of enormous personal risks.
One of the recipients is well known here in the United States. Richard Engel, NBC’s intrepid chief foreign correspondent, received an award for his insightful coverage of the tumult surrounding the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Bravo to a great journalist.
The other two are less well known, but certainly just as intrepid.
Roman Amin is a Russian investigative reporter who took the classic journalist’s advice and followed the money. He uncovered how millions of dollars were stolen from his country’s treasury. And he did it despite seeing five colleagues at Novaya Gazeta, the Moscow daily newspaper, murdered for doing their jobs.
The other winner is Umar Cheema, a Pakistani journalist whose efforts to expose government corruption and abuse led to his own brutal torture. Instead of cowering, Cheema stepped forward. He founded a center for investigative reporting in Pakistan and continues to report.
A shared belief in the truth unites Engel, Amin and Cheema. And it unites all of us really. Secretary Kerry said it best: “We stand in solidarity with journalists the world over, those who have lost their lives and sacrificed their freedom to promote the freedom of others and those who continue in that struggle.”
About the Author: Douglas Frantz serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.