The Broadcasting Board of Governors today presented the David Burke Distinguished Journalism Awards in a ceremony at its Washington, D.C., headquarters to honor excellence in journalism.
The 2016 recipients represent each of the five BBG networks. The journalists recognized have faced personal risk to bring stories from and about some of the world’s most dangerous and press-restrictive places—Yemen, Crimea, Cambodia, Cuba, and Afghanistan.
“These journalists have exemplified the definition of bravery and courage by risking their lives to report from some of the most dangerous places in the world,” said John Lansing, BBG Chief Executive Officer and Director. “Today we recognize their accomplishments as well as their commitment to providing BBG audiences with news that is honest, accurate, and free of bias.”
The award, named after BBG founding chairman David W. Burke, recognizes the courage, integrity and professionalism in their reporting. This marks the 15th year the awards have been given.
This year’s recipients include:
- Ayesha Tanzeem, Voice of America’s Islamabad Bureau Chief, in recognition of her extended reporting trip that tested her courage, her planning and her knowledge of Afghanistan’s culture, politics and security threats.
- Tomas Cardoso, from the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, for his coverage of the case of Emmanuel Abreu for Radio Martí’s daily show “Cuba al Día.”
- The Staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Crimean Unit (Krym.Realii), for their rich, mission-driven work, conducted under increasingly hostile circumstances.
- Vuthy Khim Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service, of his exceptional coverage of sensitive issues at great personal risk as a reporter for the Khmer Service.
- Arafat Mudabesh, Abdul Kareem Shaibany, and Mokhtar El-Sharafi from the Middle East Broadcasting Network, for their bravery and integrity to impart news and information to serve the public across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Burke Awards were presented at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. in December.
In the fall of 2015, Ayesha Tanzeem, the VOA News Center’s South Asia correspondent, traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan for an extended reporting trip that tested her courage, her planning and her knowledge of the country’s culture, politics and security threats.
The stories she produced gave a rare, detailed look at the inroads Islamic State militants have made in Afghanistan. The trip was taken at considerable risk to herself, as she easily could have been a target for kidnappers or militant fighters.
She traveled in disguise, wearing a burqa, to do exceptional reporting in dangerous areas. She pretended to be married to the fixer and traveling with him to “assist” in his reporting. Ms. Tanzeem often had to avoid speaking where others could hear her, because, while she speaks fluent Urdu, her Anglo-American accent and lack of fluency in Pashto, could have put them all in extreme danger.
Each piece, during her trip, was written with great sensitivity and rich context, to show how average Afghans continue to struggle against extremism and violence in their country.
Tomas Cardoso is a journalist and radio host of Radio Martí’s “Cuba al Día” program, a daily live one hour program which connects with members of Cuban civil society, human rights activists, independent journalists, lawyers, economists, bloggers and everyday Cuban citizens.
A recent example of the kind of impact stories covered by Tomas on his program is the case of Emmanuel Abreu. Mr. Abreu was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for trying to leave Cuba illegally and human trafficking.
After months of lost appeals, Mr. Abreu began a hunger strike to demand that the charges against him be dropped. His mother, Meibol Sanchez, reached out to Radio Martí on July 15, 2015, expressing her fear for her son’s life.
Ms. Sanchez continued to report on her son’s condition to Mr. Cardoso until July 25 when she was summoned by Cuban State Security where she was warned against talking to those from the “outside.”
Through the “Cuba al Día” program and the Martís’ network, Mr. Cardoso linked Ms. Sanchez to human rights activists and NGOs. In August 2015, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a letter on behalf of Emmanuel Abreu.
After 36 months Emmanuel Abreu was released on January 26, 2016.
2015 marked the first full operational year for Krym.Realii, the division of RFE/RL’s Ukraine Service that delivers radio, TV, and online news to people living in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in March 2014.
- At least four Krym.Realii contributors in 2015 were detained and subjected to questioning by Russia’s security service. Several were accused of “extremism,” the blanket accusation used against anyone who refuses to recognize Crimea as a Russian territory. Others had their property searched or, in one case, their car dismantled as they attempted to cross the administrative border with the Ukrainian mainland.
- Nine correspondents were forced to leave the peninsula, including the head of Krym.Realii, Volodymyr Prytula, who fled to Kyiv with his family and would face certain arrest if he returned home. At least four were forced to halt their work out of concern for their safety.
- Contributors who remained on the peninsula work without the safety net of accreditation, which is granted only to journalists working for pro-Russian media. Krym.Realii correspondents have been banned from official events, subjected to wiretapping, detentions, and public intimidation, and seen their family members harassed.
- The Krym.Realii website has been blocked on numerous occasions and, more seriously, threatened with closure by the peninsula’s pro-Kremlin prosecutor-general for alleged extremism by citing sources who reject Crimea as a part of Russia.
Despite such challenges, Krym.Realii has remained one of the most potent media outlets in Crimea, and virtually its only remaining source of independent news. Its journalists remain committed to the principle of delivering unbiased and accurate reporting to a besieged region that is rapidly becoming an information desert and a dangerous place for even mild dissent.
Vuthy Khin Huot
Vuthy Khin Huot has long been the face of Radio Free Asia in Cambodia and is widely known for his tough questioning of interview subjects including government officials. This year his popularity has soared, as has that of RFA Facebook, as the Cambodian government has begun an all-out assault on the opposition, civil society and the media.
Since starting in 1998, Mr. Huot has reported on a variety of human rights and environmental issues in the country including election fraud, poor working conditions, health care, clean water and land shortages.
Mr. Huot coordinated RFA’s first election coverage in Cambodia and has gone on to host election events such as candidate forums and debates. RFA’s coverage became so important to people that in 2013, a government attempt to shut down the station just before the elections backfired with a huge outpouring of support from the Cambodia people.
Mr. Huot is a natural-born educator in both his reporting and in managing the Khmer Service. In 2004 as the country prepared for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, he designed a training curriculum and brought in experts in international law, genocide, and history to prepare RFA staff to cover this momentous event. He has conducted numerous training sessions for RFA staff since then not only in the Khmer Service but in other RFA services as well.
In 2013, he organized and conducted a radio journalism workshop in cooperation with Pannasastra University of Cambodia with some 600 students applying and over 100 selected and trained.
As manager of Khmer service, he was instrumental in convincing the country’s first independent station to carry RFA in 2005. Today that station is just one of 13 affiliates broadcasting RFA content.
Radio Sawa’s Arafat Mudabesh
Unwilling to leave Yemen, Radio Sawa’s correspondent Arafat Mudabesh decided to stay to report facts on the ground, motivated by his desire to get to the heart of stories that affect the lives of Radio Sawa’s audience.
He was determined to accurately tell Yemen’s unknown stories from hot spots, including Aden, Taiz, Hadramout, Sana’a and beyond.
Despite the fact that the current conflagration made reporting on his country more difficult than at any other time in memory, Mr. Mudabesh passionately communicated Yemen’s travails with emphasis on the human cost of war from disease and lack of food, water and medicine.
He reported from the frontlines in Sana’a while Saudi Arabia backed an assault on the Houthi-held capital in Yemen’s northwest. Most recently, he reported on heavy clashes between forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and al-Qaeda militants from Yemen’s devastated port city of Aden. Mr. Mudabesh not only addressed security and political issue but also shed light on cultural topics such as the condition of Yemen’s remaining Jewish community.
With such a precarious and hostile atmosphere for journalists, Mr. Mudabesh continuously lives in fear of reprisal from Houthi and Saleh loyalists and al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists, accusing him of treason and espionage because he works for an American radio station. He has had to flee multiple times after facing harassment and receiving death threats. Most recently, Mr. Mudabesh had to flee from his residence in Aden, leaving his family behind, due to fear of retaliation from al-Qaeda extremists and the growing influence of the separatists in the city.
Alhurra’s Abdul Kareem Shaibany
Alhurra correspondent Abdul Kareem Shaibany faced grave dangers to keep viewers informed of events in Yemen. His reporting documented the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has affected more than half of Yemen’s population of 24 million. His wide circle of contacts enabled him to present balanced reporting, overcoming the immense challenge of lack of access to sources which covering Yemen’s war entails.
With constant integrity, fairness and courage, Mr. Shaibany provided breathtaking reports and showcased television journalistic excellence in Yemen’s war coverage. He helped viewers understand the country’s most severe crisis in years through daily reports on the fight between forces loyal to the beleaguered President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and those loyal to Houthis, who forced Mr. Hadi to flee the capital Sana’a.
His wide circle of contacts enabled him to present balanced reporting, overcoming the immense challenge of lack of access to sources which covering Yemen’s war entails. He traveled to several dangerous locations outside the capital Sana’a wherever the story took him. He documented the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has affected more than half of Yemen’s population of 24 million and Yemen’s looming political and economic downfall by accurately reporting significant issues and events such as peaceful protests for democracy, the threat of extremism, the capture of Sana’a by the Houthis, peace talks between warring parties and the swap of prisoners.
Alhurra’s Mokhtar El-Sharafi
Alhurra’s Mokhtar El-Sharafi is a persistent and courageous reporter who provided comprehensive reports on the security situation in Yemen from the northern province of Saada, the capital Sana’a and the northern province of Hajja.
Mr. Mokhtar was undeterred and continued reporting in the face of threats. In one instance, he risked his life and traveled to the Saudi-Yemeni border town of Hajja to provide viewers a first-hand account of the heavy clashes between Saudi forces and Houthi militants. He provided outstanding reports on the security situation there and consistently achieved excellence in his television reporting.
Mr. Mokhtar explored Yemen’s war in significant depth and shed light on the excruciating human and cultural tragedy that has engulfed the war-torn country. He addressed topics left uncovered by many local and pan-Arab media outlets, such as the damage and destruction done by the coalition airstrikes and local attacks between Hadi supporters and the Houthis and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to the historic al-Qasimi neighborhood in Sana’a Old City, one of the UNESCO’s World Heritage sites where 6,000 centuries old historical houses have been reduced to rubble.
His reports also addressed the suffering of those in need. He delved deeply in his reports into the enormous strain the already fragile health system has come under and the collapse of health services due to heavy bombardment and airstrikes combined with continuous fighting. Despite the deep security challenges, he addressed the human tragedy in a vivid picture allowing the world to confront the otherwise incomprehensible suffering of innocent civilians.
About the BBG
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international media. Its mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí). BBG programming has a measured audience of 278 million in more than 100 countries and in 61 languages.