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Nothing but the truth: the young journalists defending media freedom

11/07/2019

Concern over the growing threat to the safety of journalists is at the heart of an international campaign to defend media freedom.

Led by the UK and Canadian governments, the aim is to shine a global spotlight on free media and increase the cost to those that are attempting to restrict it. The campaign culminates in the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London on 10th and 11th July, 2019, which brings together global leaders and representatives from the media industry, journalists, civil society and academia.

The conference, which Thomson Foundation is attending, is timely as we launch our prestigious Young Journalist Award and highlight the work of three former winners - from Sudan, Syria and Russia - who, by their courage and determination, work tirelessly to root out the truth and hold the powerful to account.

Yousra Elbagir, Waad Al Kateab and Alisa Kustikova remind us that journalists often have to fight for the cause of media freedom, in the public's service, at great personal risk.

Alisa Kustikova

Young Journalist winner: 2018

Country: Russia

Press freedom ranking: 149th out of 180 countries*

Solidarity of the media: the power of collective outrage and action

Russian society is in need of reliable reporting, not reporting that is distorted by propaganda or fake information, says Alisa Kustikova, whose brave, impactful reporting won her a Young Journalist Award. Russians are experiencing a total distrust of journalism and journalists. There are too many lies being told on central channels.

In June 2019, in a bold call for press freedom in the country, three influential Russian broadsheets - Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC - used their front pages to speak out for detained journalist, Ivan Golunov, known for his investigative work probing corruption.

The editorial, titled I Am/We are Ivan Golunov , was an unusual show of media unity in the country after Ivan's arrest for serious drugs offences. The charges were widely viewed as an attempt to muzzle the journalist and were thought to be connected to a secret investigation he was working on at the time.

Reports also suggested that he was beaten in custody. A series of forensic tests later failed to establish any link between the journalist and the drugs that were found and Russian authorities dropped all charges.

Russian journalists are able to achieve a lot if they all unite There was a national outpouring of solidarity with Ivan, and Alisa was one of many defenders of transparent Russian journalism who lobbied his case. The decision to release Ivan - a highly unusual move for a system that rarely makes U-turns - was seen as a response to passionate protests that had broken out following news of his arrest.

I was one of thousands of journalists across the country, supported by the public, who took to the streets to say no to an attack on journalism, says Alisa.

Nowadays, journalists in Russia are fighting not just for their profession, we are fighting for our future. I believe in journalism that helps society and, as the story with Ivan Golunov demonstrates, Russian journalists are able to achieve a lot if they all unite.

Soon after his release, Reporters Without Borders tweeted: We hail the historic mobilisation of the Russian civil society. Now those who tried to set him up must be judged.

But the intimidation and persecution in Ivan's case is far from the first, and the risks do not end there, according to Alisa, who works as an investigative reporter in the Moscow office of Novaya Gazeta, one of the few outlets for hard-hitting independent journalism in Russia. She talks of six former Novaya journalists who she says had been murdered for their investigations, including the newspaper's founder, Yury Shchekochikhin, and Anna Politkovskaya, known for her criticisms of Russias actions in Chechnya. It's a great honour for me to continue their work, she says.

Alisas reporting includes coverage of a loan shark business that tricked thousands of people and the astonishing practice of carousel voting' during elections in St Petersburg. She is the first Russian to win the Young Journalist prize, which is part of the UK Foreign Press Association (FPA) Awards.

@AlisaKustikova

Waad Al Kateab

Young Journalist winner: 2017 (special recognition)

Country: Syria

Press freedom ranking: 174th out of 180 countries*

Surviving the siege: war from a strictly female perspective

In Syria, the citizens joke that even their thoughts and dreams are controlled by regime forces, says Waad Al Kateab.

The Syrian filmmaker won a special, one-off Young Journalist Award for Outstanding Coverage of a Continuing Story' in 2017 for her unflinching dispatches to the UK's Channel 4 News showing life and death in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

In a highly state-censored country, which denied local TV from reporting the conflict and banned foreign journalists, Waad made sure her camera was never turned off.

If this footage isn't taken, these stories will all die, and that's it, she says. I considered myself a witness to something really important. It was my responsibility to my city, its people and our friends to say what happened and get all the details out.

The growth of citizen journalists like Waad, who was an economics student at the University of Aleppo when the conflict began, isn't often a conscious choice but the result of a series of emotionally-charged events. We felt the only thing we could do, as Syrians who really believe in what's happening, is to film whatever you see around you. No one can ignore this when it is recorded.

Her footage, viewed hundreds of millions of times on YouTube, included the story of a new-born baby being resuscitated after doctors were forced to perform an emergency caesarean on a woman who had been hit by shrapn
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