Indian journalist Neha Dixit wins international Press freedom Award for reports on sex trafficking

New York: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and press freedom supporters from around the world celebrated journalists from Brazil, India, Nicaragua, and Tanzania on 22 November at the 29th annual International Press Freedom Awards in New York. Freelance investigative journalist Neha Dixit, who has reported on sex trafficking scandals in India, was presented an award at the event.

Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown – who earlier this year broke stories on Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking – presented the award to Dixit.

On 16 November, on the occasion of National Press Day in India, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and Minister of Information & Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar had presented the National Awards for Excellence in Journalism. Journalists in different fields were honoured for exemplary work in journalism at an event organized by the Press Council of India.

All the honorees at the CPJ event work in developing democracies that have experienced a deterioration in their respective press freedom environments, and they have had to fight in the face of censorship and threats to bring stories and information to their communities.

Earlier this week, the awardees met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to raise concerns about threats to press freedom around the globe, including rhetoric about “fake news” from leaders in their countries.

“This is the 29th CPJ gala. Some of you were here at the first one. You knew then that a free press is the underpinning of democracy, and that it cannot be taken for granted,” said U.S. journalist and IPFA host Shep Smith.

“If the events of the past decade have shown us anything it is that independent journalism is more necessary than ever,” added Smith.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, news director of 100% Noticias, and Miguel Mora, the outlet’s founder and director, who were freed on June 11 after six months behind bars in Nicaragua; Maxence Melo Mubyazi, a champion of online freedom of expression in Tanzania; and Folha de S. Paulo reporter Patrícia Campos Mello were amongst the others who received awards at the event.

Zaffar Abbas, editor of the Pakistani daily Dawn, was presented with the 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award by Lester Holt, anchor of “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC” and a CPJ board member. The award is named in honor of the late journalist and CPJ board member Gwen Ifill, and is presented annually to an individual who has shown extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom.

“Today, the U.S. media is under pressure from another leader who disparages and undermines journalists at every turn. As our honorees have affirmed, that rhetoric is empowering autocratic leaders around the world who are cracking down with greater ferocity,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

“And so the question arises, how should journalists respond to this pressure? If the past is any indication, they should go out and report the news as they see fit. They – you – should report the news with fairness, accuracy, integrity, and rigor,” urged Simon.

At an emotional point early in the evening, the room gave a standing ovation to Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who attended the event. The two were released earlier this year after spending more than 500 days behind bars in Myanmar for their reporting.

The event, held at the Grand Hyatt New York, raised nearly $2.7 million, with support from the evening’s dinner chairs, the Emerson Collective’s Laurene Powell Jobs and Peter Lattman. The evening also included an appeal matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Kicking off the appeal, host Smith announced that he would personally donate $500,000 to CPJ.

During the night, CPJ also collected messages of support for imprisoned journalist and 2012 awardee Azimjon Askarov of Kyrgyzstan, which will be delivered to him in prison. Supporters can also fill out a message to Askarov on CPJ’s website to show their solidarity.

Earlier in November, UNESCO released a report which observed that 90% of killers of journalists across the world from 2006 to 2018 were not convicted. The report found that killings of journalists have risen by about 18% in the past five years (2014-2018), compared to the previous five-year period.

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