It’s such an honor for me to sit in the same room as women whose work exemplifies the very best of what we try to do as journalists — uncover and tell important stories, telling truth to power, sometimes in the face of absolutely terrifying pressures.
This year, so far, 36 journalists have been killed worldwide just for trying to do their jobs, and many others have been kidnapped, tortured, beaten, shot at and surveilled, their husbands and wives and children threatened with harm by government agents and others.
On October 27, I sat in the balcony of the oh-so-elegant Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan watching three fantastic female journalists win the Courage in Journalism Award from the 11-year-old International Women’s Media Foundation and one, Kate Adie, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The four came from Thailand, Iran, Mexico and England — the latter a legend, Kate Adie, the BBC’s first chief news correspondent, an astonishing woman I met on the same Canadian story in 1984. (More on that later.)
The three CIJ award-winners are:
Adela Navarro Bello, 44, who edits Zeta, a Mexican newsmagazine. She told the room that 68 journalists have been killed and 12 have gone missing since 2006 in Mexico, a nation plagued with drug cartels and narco-terrorism, stories she keep covering despite the incredible danger in so doing. Journalists have been decapitated for doing this work. “The stakes have never been higher and 95 percent of these crimes have not been solved,” she told the audience. “If you commit a crime like this, no one will track you down, no one will accuse you and no one will arrest you.”
Parisa Hafezi, 41, bureau chief for Reuters in Tehran. “In Iran, life is tough enough for a woman, let alone a female journalist working for foreign media.” Hafezi, a single mother of two girls, has had her home raided by police. “The little one still has nightmares,” she said. “I’ve cried in secret after long interrogations. But this is not my job. This is my life. How can I quit my life?” The November issue of Glamour includes a photo of her, with her daughters, in editor Cindi Lieve’s editor’s note; Lieve sits on the IWMF board.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, 43, who runs a Thai website, Prachatai, (“Free People”) which posted others’ negative comments about the King of Thailand. For this, a crime in Thailand, she faces a possible 20-year prison sentence; she is currently out on bail.
Adie, 65, has been covering every major story worldwide for more than 40 years, from Tianamen Square to the genocide in Rwanda. She still has shrapnel in one foot as a result of one attack.
Funny, warm, down-to-earth, Adie whispered in my ear in 1984 after we met while covering the Royal Tour of Queen Elizabeth to three Canadian provinces. I was then 26, on my first huge assignment for The Globe and Mail, writing front page stories several times every day for two weeks. I had no prior newspaper experience before being hired to write for the Globe, still Canada’s most respected national newspaper.
I was terrified much of the time, knowing what sort of pressure I faced to come up with news — on a story that everyone knows offers none. When I did some reporting that other reporters missed, I quickly became the target of much gossip and backbiting among the international press corps. Demoralized and isolated, I had no idea how to handle it, when Adie, a total stranger and already a very famous journalist in her own right, came over to me as we ate dinner en masse one night.
“The higher your profile, the better target you make,” she said quietly.
I never forgot her kindness, and her wisdom. And so, in June 2007, when I got to London for the first time in years, I asked her to lunch. We sat down, chatting away like old friends.
Adie paid me one of the greatest compliments of my life, mentioning me admiringly (and that 1984 incident, the price of my speaking out) in her autobiography.
Typical of her modesty and sense of history, she paid tribute in her acceptance speech to the greatest female foreign reporter of an earlier era, American-born Martha Gellhorn — a woman she termed “both wise and stylish.” I like that combo!
“I never planned to be a journalist or studied it. I learned my journalism haphazardly without female role models,” she told the audience, which included executives from major media companies based in New York like Bloomberg News, CBS, Conde Nast, Hearst and others.
On one of her many meetings with Queen Elizabeth, she was told, in regal tones: “I always associate you with ghastly things.”
That’s journalism — often covering dark, scary, dangerous and depressing stuff that many people prefer to avoid, both readers and other reporters.
That’s what these brave, smart, tough, inspiring women choose to do.
Congratulations to all of them!