BBG announces 2015 Burke Award winners

The Broadcasting Board of Governors has announced the winners of the 2015 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Awards for exceptional integrity, bravery, and originality in reporting.

The 2015 winners represent each of the BBG networks and have tackled topics ranging from extremism in Nigeria and in the Middle East, to corruption in Azerbaijan. Many of them have done so at great risk.

“Our 2015 Burke Award winners represent the best of U.S. international media,” said Chairman Jeff Shell. “These brave men and women have tackled issues of critical importance in some of the most dangerous locations on earth.”

CEO John Lansing agreed, adding, “Every day our journalists overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring exceptional reporting to audiences in media-restricted countries. It is with honor and humility that we recognize these outstanding individuals who risk their livelihoods to provide accurate, uncensored information to those who need it most.”

This year’s winners are:

  • The Staff of Azerbaijani Service’s Baku Bureau, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for their revealing investigative reporting in the face of beatings, harassment and even forced closure by the Azeri government
  • The Producers of Alhurra’s Delusional Paradise, from the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, for their compelling and powerful series that provides a voice for the living victims of violent extremism.
  • Shohret Hoshur, from the Uyghur Service at Radio Free Asia, for his excellent and exclusive reporting on Xinjiang and the Uyghur nation, despite threats to family members in China
  • Jose Alpizar, from the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, for his ingenuity and dedication in developing an effective distribution system for Marti content in Cuba
  • Ibrahim Ahmed, from Voice of America’s Hausa Service, for his intrepid reporting from Boko Haram targeted territory in Northeastern Nigeria

The Burke Awards will be presented at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. in December.


Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)

(l-r) Pierre Jad, Leila Bazzi, and George Chawah
(l-r) Pierre Jad, Leila Bazzi, and Georges Chawah

Leila Bazzi, Pierre Jad, and Georges Chawah are the producers of a new thought-provoking documentary series on Alhurra that sheds a light on the atrocities committed by Daesh (ISIL) in a way not often seen on Arab television. Delusional Paradise goes beyond the daily death count and list of atrocities and instead focuses on the human stories of the living, and often forgotten, victims of Daesh. The mini-documentaries give a voice to the families and communities who have lost loved ones to Daesh, many of whom are speaking publicly for the first time, and provides them an outlet to express their anger and grief as reluctant witnesses to extremism.

These enterprising producers bravely faced numerous harrowing challenges. Due to this sensitive subject, authorities watched the team’s every move throughout the Middle East, even filming their actions at times. Many of the interview subjects would back out at the last minute in fear of retribution. Mothers who had already lost family members begged others not to speak on camera out of fear that they could be the next target of Daesh.

Through their persistence and dedication, Leila, Pierre and Georges built trust among their interview subjects, so they would agree to open up on camera. The result is a powerful and compelling series that provides a voice for the living victims of violent extremism.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)

Baku bureau of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service

In 2014 the Baku bureau of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, AzadliqRadiosu, braved a tumultuous year. Two staff members were beaten during the year; four received personal threats against them and families, and up to 10 members were detained several times for their coverage. On December 26 the bureau was forced to suspend operations following an illegal raid by state investigators. Following the raid, 26 members of the Baku team were subjected to hours of interrogation without legal counsel and warned of potential arrest. Several have since fled the country.

The crackdown has come as no surprise. Before its closure, the bureau had documented numerous cases of high-level corruption tied to the regime of President Ilham Aliyev.

Throughout it all, the Baku bureau staff — 14 employees and 35 freelancers — displayed uncommon courage, consummate journalistic professionalism, and deep commitment to the principles of democracy and free speech.

Despite the pressure, threats, and unprecedented legal and financial disruption, many members of the Baku bureau are continuing their work, albeit in a different form. In so doing, they are carrying on the bureau’s determination to fulfill its journalistic mission according to the highest professional standards — no matter the challenges.

Radio Free Asia (RFA)

Shohret Hoshur

RFA Uyghur Service reporter Shohret Hoshur has consistently delivered valuable, hard-to-obtain and trustworthy exclusive stories from Xinjiang Province in China, at great personal risk. His reporting on Xinjiang and the Uyghur nation has won consistent praise from China-based foreign reporters, who admire his access, his doggedness and his accuracy. Global media outlets cited his journalism throughout 2014 but particularly in late summer and early fall when tensions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region escalated. These deadly incidents were either under reported or completely ignored in Chinese state media, making RFA’s exclusive coverage even more important and sought after among audiences in China and among journalistic peers.

Not everyone, however, is pleased with his work. In retribution for his reporting, one of his brothers in China was sentenced to five years in prison for violating state security laws, and two other brothers were detained for allegedly leaking state secrets after discussing the sentencing in a phone call with Hoshur, who is based in Washington, D.C. This suppression of free speech is thought to be the first long-distance intimidation used by the Chinese government.

Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB)

Jose Alpizar

Strict media controls in Cuba have resulted in the creation of an underground, secret distribution network for uncensored information. The OCB’s Jose Alpizar champions this vital “hand-to-hand” network. Working directly with Marti reporters and producers and with a list of contacts in Cuba yearning for unbiased news, Mr. Alpizar has, in just two years, grown a small DVD duplication program to a complex distribution system that today boasts 15,000 DVDs a month handed out door-to-door and on street corners across Cuba. In addition to DVDs, Mr. Alpizar has led the way to distributing flash drives carrying gigabytes of not just Marti audio and video content, but also information on research and development of WiFi and over-the-air television signal broadcasts inside of Cuba free from government control. With his transmission engineering skills and unwavering dedication, Mr. Alpizar has singlehandedly nurtured a network of dedicated Cuban citizens to disseminate Radio and Television Marti content throughout the island.

Voice of America (VOA)

Ibrahim Ahmed
Ibrahim Ahmed

While reporting on the terror wreaked by Boko Haram in Nigeria, VOA Hausa reporter Ibrahim Ahmed spent weeks traveling through Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States during the height of the extremists’ attacks there. His on-the-scene coverage brought stories of survival and resistance to VOA audiences on radio, television and on digital products, including the Hausa website he helped create. Mr. Ahmed also organized town hall meetings with youth leaders and election commission officials to discuss preventing a reoccurrence of post-election violence in Kaduna. He returned for the historic poll and delivered on-camera interviews with voters, party leaders, a former military ruler, the vice president, and the winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari. The work, however, was particularly dangerous and his reporting brought condemnation from extremists. During his travels he had to be especially cautious, never sleeping in the same place twice.


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Contact Laurie Moy
Writer-Editor (Multimedia), Office of Public Affairs