Belarusian Journalists Win Golden Pen of Freedom Award

2003-06-09. The World Association of Newspapers today awarded its annual press freedom prize, the 2003 Golden Pen of Freedom, to the Belarusian Association of Journalists in recognition of its courageous resistance to the repression of the media by President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

by Vincent Peyrègne | June 29, 2003

“For my colleagues and myself, this award is a symbol of professional solidarity with, and support of, Belarusian journalists. It is a signal that we are not alone in protecting our professional rights, freedom of speech principles and the citizens’ right of receiving objective information,” said Zhanna Litvina, President of the Association, in accepting the award.

“The executive powers in Belarus have preserved their attitude towards the press as part of the government mechanism, as a propaganda machine,” she said, adding that international pressure “represents perhaps the only possibility of influencing the current regime and insisting that it meets international media standards.”

The presentation was made during the opening ceremonies of the 56th World Newspaper Congress and 10th World Editors Forum, which drew nearly 1,200 newspaper publishers, senior executives, and editors from 85 countries to Ireland for the four-day annual meetings of the world’s press.

“The Belarusian Association of Journalists is fighting bravely against what is probably the most repressive regime in Europe,” said Gloria Brown Anderson, President of the World Editors Forum, who presented the award.

“Many of the Association’s 900 members have been jailed, beaten and repeatedly prosecuted. If it were not for the extraordinary resistance of this organisation, freedom of information and expression would most likely have been entirely eliminated in the country,” she said.

In recent months, the BAJ has launched a campaign to abolish criminal defamation laws, has demanded the resignation of Information Minister Mikhail Padhainy for using his ministry to suppress freedom of expression, and has pressured authorities to further investigate the kidnapping and disappearance of cameraman Dmitry Savadsky.

The Association defends individual journalists and media organisations through its Law Centre for Media Protection, which supports and defends the independent press whenever its rights are abused. The Centre provides legal analysis of violations, legal consulting, representation of media organisation interests in courts, publications on media legal regulatory issues, drafts of alternative media laws, and conferences and seminars on media-related issues.

The Centre is in the process of expanding its activities, and plans to publish a series of brochures on legal education of journalists, and to prepare guides and references on the basic legal provisions that regulate media operation.

The Centre’s experts have also acted as defence attorneys in trials against Belarusian journalists and media organisations: in the months leading up to President Lukashenko’s September re-election, tax officials seized equipment from media organisations, froze their bank accounts, and installed a senior government official as head of the publishing house that prints most independent newspapers in the capital, Minsk.

This is only the second time in the forty-year history of the Golden Pen that it has been awarded to a group, rather than an individual. “It is perhaps symbolic, as the Belarusian regime engages in Soviet-style repression, that the first time was in 1969, when the Pen was given to ‘the Czechoslovak press fighting for its freedom,’” said Ms. Brown Anderson.

WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina’s Jacobo Timerman (1980), Russia’s Sergei Grigoryants (1989), China’s Gao Yu (1995), Vietnam’s Doan Viet Hoat (1998), and Faraj Sarkoohi of Iran (1999). The 2002 winner was Geoffrey Nyarota of Zimbabwe.

The Paris-based WAN defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 71 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 100 countries, 13 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.

Vincent Peyrègne

Vincent Peyrègne took up duties as Chief Executive Officer of WAN-IFRA in 2012. Prior to joining WAN-IFRA, he was Head of Development at Edipresse in Switzerland (now Tamedia) with responsibility for audience insights, editorial marketing research and product development, before joining the office of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.

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