ABC News President David Westin

8:29 pm Speeches - scripts - annual reports

Remarks before the IWMF’s Courage in Journalism Awards

Oct. 10, 2000Thank you Cynthia and Carole. It is a privilege to join you here today, to help honor and recognize four journalists who serve as stirring examples of the best of our profession.

Saluting journalists of this caliber gives the journalism community an opportunity to pause — to consider why it is critical to continue to dedicate ourselves to covering world events. Now more than ever, we must honor these sacrifices and acknowledge such incredible efforts.

Each of these women — Marie Colvin (COAL-vin) Agnes Nindorera (ahn-YEZ nin-doh-REHR-ah) and Zamira Sydykova (zah-MEER-ah suh-DEEK-oh-vah) — is a testament to courage, a very unique brand of courage. They are among a select group of journalists in the world today who pack bulletproof vests as casually as they pack their notebooks and pencils, readying for journeys that take them far from their families and their familiar routines.

Their accomplishments are especially noteworthy today, when many predict that the next hundred years will prove even bloodier than the last. And the last, I remind you, included the Holocaust and two world wars.

Just consider this chilling fact: After three years of steady decline, the number of wars fought worldwide increased significantly in 1999. By year’s end there were 40 armed conflicts being fought on the territories of 36 countries, up from 36 armed conflicts in 31 countries in 1998.

Many journalists, including those who work at ABC News, risk – and even lose — their lives covering those wars.

In the last year alone, more than 30 working journalists were killed doing their jobs. The number of deaths was even higher than the year before, in 1998, when 24 journalists died. Many of those killed were targeted by warring factions determined to keep the truth from being uncovered. The goal is to silence the witnesses who can shout to the world about atrocities, corruption or exterminations.

This year alone, four journalists have already been killed since the start of Russia’s military offensive in Chechnya, according to the Glasnost Defense Fund, a Moscow-based media rights group. Three others are missing in the war-torn republic. Several Russian and foreign journalists have been kidnapped in and around Chechnya in the past few years. Chechnya, I needn’t remind you, is Maria Colvin’s beat.

These are hard facts to dwell upon, especially over lunch. But it is exactly these kinds of accounts, these kinds of never-ending conflicts, that bring us together here today. To honor four select women who represent hundreds of journalists worldwide.

Every day, they tramp willingly into the kinds of hellholes most only glimpse on TV, or at the movies. Our nightmares are their daily realities.

These three women are pioneers, certainly, doing a job only a handful of people in the world have the tenacity, and the stomach, to perform. Today, we also honor one of the women who laid the groundwork for our current generation of journalists. Flora Lewis, who is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award today. Back in the beginning of her heyday – which, I believe, has already lasted about 50 years – Flora reported on one of the bloodiest, costliest wars of all time – World War II.

These women are being honored today for risking physical danger, uncovering secrecy or oppression, and confronting political pressure while enduring professional intimidation. How many of us will ever surmount those kinds of obstacles in pursuit of our daily jobs?

I know that I am going to think hard about these journalists and their experiences the next time I find myself grousing about a lousy commute on a packed subway, or long day spent in my air-conditioned office. Here, safe in the home office, we fret about budgets and ratings, not bullets or blood. Even those journalists who report for organizations such as ABC News, usually get to hop on a plane after their assignment is over. To leave the horrors behind and return to their homes and families. Not these women.

For them, it’s more than just a job. It’s personal. They are crusaders for truth. And nothing – not jail, not even risk of death – holds them back from their ferocious drive to get that story, to get that truth.

These are the journalists who spend their work days making certain that the evils and horrors that millions live with daily are recognized, and given meaning. For that, we respect them. We honor them. Thank you.

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