CJFE honours North American media at 21st annual gala

Thursday, December 20, 2018
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CJFE honours North American media at 21st annual gala  

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) honoured three North American media representatives for their courage in reporting and fighting for press freedom at its annual gala tonight in Toronto.  Javier Valdez (Mexico) was honoured with the International Press Freedom Award, staff of the Capital Gazette (USA) was awarded the Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award and academic and digital rights activist Michael Geist (Canada) was presented with the Vox Libera Award.

“Freedom of the press is increasingly being threatened, even right here at home,” said Phil Tunley, CJFE’s President. “We are committed to continue to shine the spotlight on those who fight to maintain this basic right. Our decision to honour journalists and academics working in North America highlights that this threat is not something that only affects members of the media overseas, it concerns those working close to home as well.”

Award recipients are as follows:

International Press Freedom Award 

Javier Valdez was one of the leading anti-corruption and anti-gang journalists in Mexico. He reported for years on these issues, winning the Sinaloa Journalism Award, Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Journalism Award and CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.

After tweeting about the murder of his colleague, Miroslava Breach, assailants gunned him down outside Riodoce, the newspaper he founded and continued to work at despite many death threats. He was killed on May 15th, 2017.

“Valdez’s story brings attention to the dire situation in Mexico. This will send a powerful message that things are becoming as dire on our continent as they traditionally have been in non-democratic countries around the world,” said Drysdale.

The award was accepted by Valdez’s wife, Griselda Triana.

Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award 

On June 29th, 2018, a gunman entered the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland and opened fire, killing four journalists and one sales assistant.

The victims were:

  • Robert Hiaasen, 59,
    • Assistant editor and Sunday columnist
    • Was just announced that his final book, “Float Plan” will be published posthumously on Sept 15
    • He was a veteran reporter known as a mentor to younger staff at the newspaper and taught journalism at the University of Maryland
  • Gerald Fischman, 61
    • Editorial page editor
    • Worked at the paper for more than 25 years
    • Had won awards from the Maryland Press Association for articles about a County Council member accused of censoring public comments
  • John McNamara, 56
    • Reporter
    • Worked at the paper for more than 20 years
    • Worked on general assignment, loved editing, designing and writing about everything from sports to local politics
  • Wendi Winters, 65
    • Editor and community reporter
    • Worked in PR and ran her own business before joining the paper as a journalist
    • Active volunteer with Girl Scouts and Red Cross
  • Rebecca Smith, 34
    • Sales Assistant
    • Had only worked at the paper for one year

The Capital Gazette is one of America’s oldest newspapers and has been owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group since 2014. It started publishing again within a week of the shooting. While known as a small, collegial paper that focuses on light community news, the Gazette also acts as a watchdog for the state capital.

The shooter, Jarrod W. Ramos, had been fighting with the newspapers for years. He issued a defamation lawsuit against them in 2011 for a story about harassment charges against him. He had been threatening newspaper staff since the case was dismissed in 2015.

The Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award recognizes a Canadian journalist who, through his or her work, has made an important contribution to reinforcing and promoting the principle of freedom of the press in Canada or elsewhere, and who has taken personal risks or suffered physical reprisals for their work.

“It’s normally awarded to Canadians, but this year we selected Capital Gazette staff because of their incredible work and the horrendous circumstances,” said Tunley. “The story of the Capital Gazette is illustrative of the dangers of the incredibly polarized political landscape and mistrust of journalists currently ongoing in North America today.”

Vox Libera Award 

Michael Geist is a Canadian academic, Research Chair in E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, and digital rights activist. He writes columns in the Vancouver Sun, Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen and founded the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

He successfully led the fight against 2007 legislation that would incorporate the worst aspects of the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act into Canadian law, was a leader in the fight against Bill C-51 and C-31, is actively fighting the dangerous Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and is also leading the charge to maintain net neutrality against lobbying from Canada’s largest telecoms.

The Vox Libera is awarded to a Canadian individual or organization that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression and has had made an important and sustained contribution—at home or abroad—to those same principles.

“Despite his incredible career, Geist has never been recognized by our organization in any formal fashion. The timing is right for him to win this award because of his tireless work to maintain freedom of the press right here at home,” said Tunley.

For more information or to request interviews:

David Wills, [email protected], 416-342-1809

Jeri Brown, [email protected], 416-342-1834


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