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2020 Golden Pen of Freedom Award Ceremony Speech by World Editors Forum President Warren Fernandez

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2020 Golden Pen of Freedom Award Ceremony Speech by World Editors Forum President Warren Fernandez

Watch the award ceremony here:

"Good evening, their Majesties, the King and Queen of Spain, Excellencies; Fellow editors and journalists; Ladies and Gentlemen,

Covid-19 has robbed us all of our freedom.

We are unable to move around the world as freely as we had grown used to.

So, unfortunately, I am here in Singapore, speaking to you from my newsroom, unable to be with you in Spain.

Even at home, we can’t meet friends and family as we please, to hug and to hold, without masks, without fear, of what we might be picking up or passing on.

Along with the coronavirus, another pandemic - of misinformation and fake news - has been unleashed. 

In the process, our audiences and communities have found themselves hard pressed to tell if they can believe what they read, and perhaps even what they see. 

And as the economic impact of the outbreak takes its toll, our newsrooms have found themselves starved of revenues and resources. 

The result: jobs, livelihoods, and in some cases, even the very existence of newsrooms, have been put at grave risk.

Meanwhile, populists, racists, autocrats, and demagogues are on the march in parts of the world, emboldened by the anxieties and confusion of the times. As W.B. Yeats put it: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.

And in the face of these pressures, many in the media are finding their ability to operate “cabined, cribbed, confined”, to borrow the words of Shakespeare.

The bitter irony is this: never before have audiences turned to our newsrooms in such numbers and in such need for credible, reliable information, to help them make sense of developments, to separate fact from fiction, to figure out how to protect themselves and their families, their livelihoods and their lives.

Never before has the work of professional newsrooms and credible media been more vital to the health and well-being of our societies.

As journalists and editors, we have to take courage, we have to persevere; we have to carry on in the face of our challenges and adversities.

It is fitting then that today, we come together to honour one of our own, and her amazing story of courage and perseverance.

In the face of unspeakable crimes, personal suffering and humiliation, she has refused to be cowed and silenced. She continues to seek out and speak up against corruption, abuse of power, and violence - against women and against journalists.

I am speaking, of course, of our winner for this year’s Golden Pen of Freedom, Ms Jineth Bedoya Lima.

On 25 May 2000, while investigating reports of alleged arms sales between paramilitaries and state officials, for her newspaper, El Espectador, she went to the notorious La Modelo prison in Bogota, for an interview.

It was a trap.

This is how she recounts what happened in several interviews:

"When I got to the prison entrance, a woman asked if I was the journalist. I was about to answer when a man came, put his arm round my waist, a gun to my side, and said he would kill me if I did not start walking.

“They tied my hands and feet, blindfolded me and put me in a truck. We drove for a long time.

“I was taken to a warehouse where there were other men.

“And that is when they started torturing me.

“I was beaten, kicked in the head, in the body, in the stomach, on the legs.

 “They told me that the press is evil in this country.

“Pay attention. We are sending a message to the press. 

“And they beat me up. They grabbed me by the hair. They raped me.”

After some time, Jineth was driven to another location -  and dumped, naked, by the roadside.

Amazingly, despite this harrowing experience, she was back at her desk in the newsroom two weeks later.

She said nothing, but went back to the beat, covering crimes and misdemeanors in Colombia, as before.

Outside of her work, though, she began speaking to other women who had suffered similar experiences -  “for my own reasons, not for work," she says.

Three years later, in 2003, this time while working for  El Tiempo, as she was travelling with a photographer to meet members of the FARC, the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, she was abducted again, and held for eight days.

“We were kidnapped, held – this time not raped, but humiliated and beaten,” she says. 

For six more years, Jineth continued her work as a journalist, but hardly spoke a word publicly about what had happened to her. 

Finally, in 2009, she decided to break her silence.

This is how she explains why, in an interview with the Guardian: 

 "I had met so many women who had experiences similar to mine, yet the state would not recognise these crimes. No one wanted to look into it, or even talk about it. When I wanted to pursue my own case, and contacted the police hospital for the evidence, it had all been destroyed."

That year, she launched the “No Es Hora De Callar” (It is not time to be silent) campaign to denounce the systematic impunity in cases of sexual violence amid Colombia’s internal war. 

Three long years later, in 2012, the Colombian Public Prosecutors office finally recognized her torture and sexual assault a crime against humanity. 

In 2016, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in defense of women’s rights and against gender violence and impunity in Colombia. 

In a landmark ruling in 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held the Colombian state responsible for the acts committed against her nearly two decades ago, and referred her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In April this year, Jineth was awarded the 2020 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. 

Her struggle for justice – her own as well as for women around the world who have suffered sexual violence – continues, as well as her work as a journalist at the El Tiempo, where she is now Deputy Editor.

Often, when asked by interviewers how she survived those dark days of captivity and torture, and how she kept going, her replies have been clear and consistent: “I will not be silenced; I choose to survive, to keep doing journalism.”

At a time when journalists, women, and minorities are under such great threat of violence, oppression, and discrimination, in so many places around the world, the courage and conviction of Jineth Bedoya-Lima, is a shining inspiration. 

We will do well to remember those resounding words of hers -  “I will not be silenced; I choose to survive, to keep doing journalism” – and find solace and strength in them.

In the difficult days ahead, as we continue to grapple with Covid-19, we will have to rebuild and reinvigorate our ravaged newsrooms. We will have to find new ways to sustain them and keep them going, “to choose to survive, to keep doing journalism”, in the interests of the communities we serve.

Yet, daunting as the challenges ahead might be, eventually, the pandemic will pass.  

But for some of our colleagues around the world, the scourge of violence and intimidation, the arrests and killings of reporters, and the brazen attempts to undermine the credibility of our journalists and newsrooms – will continue.  This year, another 17 of our colleagues have been killed while doing their jobs, in places like Mexico, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against corruption and abuse of power, racism or sexual harassment, populism and demagoguery.  

One of the key ways of inoculating our societies against these lingering ills, I believe, is through promoting openness, inclusivity and understanding, upholding facts and truth, striving for fairness, objectivity and balance. Yes, in other words, safeguarding good journalism. 

On September 28, we will mark World News Day. Some 100 newsrooms from around the world will stand together to showcase the work of professional journalists -   the impact they have, and differences they make - to the health and well-being of our societies.  

We will tell the stories of the many brave men and women around the world who, in the face of relentless pressures –  legal or commercial, physical or mental, real or virtual, from states or individuals – declare, as Jineth does, time and again, “we will not be silenced;  we choose to survive, to keep doing journalism”.

In doing so, we will all draw courage, hope and inspiration, from the life and work of our winner of the Golden Pen of Freedom 2020 – Ms Jineth Bedoya-Lima."

Warren Fernandez
Biography

Author

Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop

Date

2020-09-14 18:11

Contact information

The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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