The International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Awards celebrated 25 years Tuesday and quite the celebration it was! Hosted by actress and advocate Olivia Wilde and Glamour magazine’s Cindi Leive, the inspiring ceremony honored female journalists who have shown extraordinary bravery and integrity while reporting under dangerous and difficult circumstances.
Kate Hudson, Rashida Jones, Paula Abdul, Aaron Sorkin, Lisa Ling, Katherine Schwarzenegger, Bo Derek and Amy Brenneman were just some of the celebrities who gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to support International Women’s Media Foundation’s (IWMF) work to strengthen the role of women journalists worldwide and to celebrate their extraordinary work.
Wilde said was empowered by the lessons her – an accomplished investigative journalist – passed on to her.
“She taught me the importance of speaking truth to power, to not be intimidated by people telling you to give up and to stop chasing the impossible. In terms of my own career, her example of perseverance has been very, very helpful my whole life.”
The actress, who became a first-time mother earlier this year, said her mother’s reporting opened her eyes to the courageous work of journalists and the impact they can have.
“In terms of what she represents for women in journalism, I’ve been so inspired by her example of blasting through the glass ceiling and to passing so many people in the field who felt that women had no place in war zones. And I think the women we’re honoring tonight are perfect examples of that. It’s such an unbelievably dangerous profession and yet they risk their lives every day, they’re under constant surveillance, getting death threats, in order to speak truth to power. So I can’t imagine a more noble profession. Without them, how are the rest of us to judge our government or other governments or make decisions to even participate as citizens?”
This year’s honorees were: Arwa Damon, CNN’s International Correspondent, Solange Luisku Nsimire, Editor in Chief of Le Souverain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brankica Stankovic, television reporter of the outlet B92 in Serbia.
For more than a decade, Damon has reported from the most turbulent areas of the Middle East covering revolutions and wars, escaping crossfire and bombings; as well as withstanding government criticism all to tell the stories of those living through conflict. She said this award presents an opportunity for her and her fellow honorees to further increase awareness to important global issues.
“It’s a platform for us to be able to talk about these issues and the context of the world and it’s a platform to be able to highlight a number of issues from the challenges that women continue to face in terms of trying to break certain glass ceilings. It’s a platform to highlight what’s happening in these different war zones; issues that aren’t necessarily getting across to people through the mainstream media.”
Damon is driven by a passion to create compassion and understanding between cultures that she says comes from having been raised between both her American and Syrian backgrounds. The CNN reporter told me it’s telling those human stories that keep her going during those times when her life may be at risk.
“Those individual moments that you’re able to impact an individual’s life or where you’re able to impact a viewer to a point where they sit up and they pay attention, maybe to Iraq and Syria in a way that they wouldn’t have before, or when you’re able to personalize a story and create that compassionate bridge that should exist between humans but sometimes gets lost because it feels like the world has lost its moral compass. I think we just need to keep fighting and wanting to build that connection because I feel like people are trying to get more and more isolated from what’s happening around the world in some cases, but we can’t. We have a responsibility as members of the global world towards these other nations that are not as fortunate of us all.”
One of those less fortunate circumstances would be fellow honoree, Nsimire, who in Eastern Congo is a leader of one of the few independent media outlets in the region, which is dominated by competing powers and corrupt decision makers. Even though she and her family have been the target of multiple threats for her reporting, she says she will never stop giving a much-needed voice to the people of the South Kivu province and fighting for the rights of women where abuse is all too common.
Brankica Stankovic’s reporting on corruption and crime perpetrated by Serbia’s political and economic elite has made her one of the country’s most prominent investigative journalists as well as a target for attacks; since 2009, she has had to live under 24-hour police protection. During her speech, Stankovic said even though she is well aware of her dangers, the opportunity to tell people’s stories of injustice makes it all worth it for her.
The courage of these heroic reporters did not go unnoticed with the stars. “Talk about hoping that there’s some sort of osmosis bravery that I catch through the night,” said actress Rashida Jones. “Such great company to be in; I feel honored to be involved.”
Katherine Schwarzenegger said even though her mother – Maria Shriver- couldn’t make it to the gala this year, she wanted to continue their tradition of attending and support a cause they both feel strongly about. (Shriver recently returned to her journalistic roots with NBC News.)
“I absolutely love everything that this organization does,” said Schwarzenegger. “This evening is so special and exciting for the women being honored.”
Founded in 1990 by a group of prominent U.S. women journalists, the IWMF’s programs empower women journalists with the training, support and network to become leaders in the news industry.
Lisa Ling, a prominent journalist who herself also goes and reports on places and people so often not seen and heard, said what the IWMF does is crucial for these journalists who face danger as they uncover the truth.
“Now more than ever we need to start recognizing and supporting journalists out there in the field who are taking risks to tell stories.”
Stories that as Damon said need to be told to make a difference where a difference needs to be made.
“The more we know, the more we see, the more we can bring about change. Change comes about through compassion, education and knowledge, and so we have to keep generating that.”
To learn more and support the work of the International Women’s Media Foundation, visit: www.iwmf.org