Journalists covering revolutions and earthquake win 2011 Burke Awards

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today announced the winners of the 2011 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award. This award, named after the first BBG Chairman David Burke, recognizes courage, integrity and originality in reporting within the BBG broadcast entities.

“The hard work of our broadcasters inspires the board, and certainly all of our audiences around the world,” said Dana Perino, member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. “The Burke Award recognizes a select group—those whose dedicated and original journalism furthers our mission of informing and enlightening our audiences and impacts their lives in a meaningful way.”

This year’s winners are:

  • Middle East Broadcasting Network’s Alhurra reporters Tarek El Shamy, Akram Khuzam, Muslim Khadil, and Nayef Mashakba
  • Voice of America’s Creole Service
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarus Service
  • Radio Free Asia’s Cantonese Service
  • Radio Mart&iacute’s José Luis Ramos

Alhurra’s Tarek El Shamy, Akram Khuzam, Muslim Khandil and Nayef Mashakba were honored for their coverage of the Egyptian Revolution in late January and February 2011. In spite of the threats against them, Alhurra’s courageous journalists reported around-the-clock from Cairo and Alexandria providing live, non-stop coverage of the revolution for its 18-day duration. In one incident on February 2, 2011, El Shamy and Khuzam were reporting from the network’s offices in Cairo when crowds outside began yelling up to the Alhurra correspondents, threatening them by name and telling them to leave Egypt. Eventually, they made their way inside the building and started banging on the office doors trying to get into the facility. El Shamy and Khuzam stayed on the air to continue Alhurra’s coverage. Through all of the challenges and uncertainty facing the four correspondents, they made sure Alhurra stayed on the air to cover this historic event live from Egypt.

VOA’s Creole Service was recognized for its unmatched coverage of the devastating Haitian earthquake. In the hours after the disaster, the service surged their programming by 900%, set up a hotline and created Facebook and Twitter accounts to help their families in the United States locate their relatives in Haiti. VOA’s news coverage also served as public service journalism. On one occasion, after camp residents complained of lack of food during the call-in show, an NGO brought a truckload of food. Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States, Louis Harold Joseph, thanked the service for its role in the aftermath of the earthquake and called the broadcasts over the years a “breath of fresh air for us.”

RFE/RL’s Belarus Service was honored for their breaking news and in-depth analysis of Belarus’ December 2010 disputed presidential election, which was followed by bloody street protests and a government crackdown on the media and political opposition. The service pursued a multi-platform approach, with integrated radio, television and web coverage. The day after the crackdown, Radio Svaboda’s website recorded a 5-fold increase in unique visitors, and the coverage was widely quoted, including by CNN, the New York Times, and BBC. Svaboda also created “Voices of Solidarity,” a project with dozens of U.S. and international leaders, such as former U.S. President George Bush, who read the names of the more than 700 people detained in the crackdown.

RFA’s Cantonese Service was recognized for groundbreaking coverage of a radiation leak and the Chinese Government’s nondisclosure of that information. In May 2010, China’s Shenzhen Daya Bay Nuclear Plant incurred four accidents, including its most serious radiation leak since it began operations, which authorities tried to cover up. RFA’s Cantonese Service obtained a document revealing details of the nuclear leakage and broke the story with comprehensive coverage, which was picked up by major media organizations. After this story was revealed, environmentalists and local politicians called for accountability, an investigation, and new accident reporting requirements.

Radio Martí’s José Luis Ramos earned the award for dedicated reporting of the funeral of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. On February 23, 2010, 42-year-old Tamayo died from starvation after more than 80 days of a hunger strike to protest the prison conditions, including beatings by cell guards. Official Cuban media did not report the story, and it was through Radio Martí that Cubans on the island followed the news. José Luis Ramos independently arranged exclusive live coverage of Tamayo’s funeral through cell phone communication between the Radio Martí Studio and Tamayo’s home in Banes.

Watch the video above to learn more about this year’s winners and their stories.