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Erik Bjerager’s Speech Awarding the Golden Pen of Freedom 2012

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Erik Bjerager’s Speech Awarding the Golden Pen of Freedom 2012

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Golden Pen of Freedom 2012 Presentation Speech, delivered by Erik Bjerager, President, World Editors Forum at the Opening Ceremony, 64th World Newspaper Congress and 19th World Editors Forum, Kiev, Ukraine, 3 September 2012.


"Mr President,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

"To hold power to account is the privilege of our profession and the hard-won right of a free press worldwide. But this distinction, as many of you are fully aware, often comes at a tragically high price. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Mexico today, where the powerful are willing to use extreme violence and truth is too often delivered with the caveat of deadly reprisal. 

"Mexico is in the midst of a conflict of historic proportions and its journalists are squarely in the front line. WAN-IFRA has recorded 44 journalist deaths since 2006; five have been killed this year, three in the state of Veracruz in a single week. These figures have turned Mexico into one of the most deadly beats in the world for media professionals. As a result, the light at the core of the country’s democracy is quickly extinguishing.

"Yet to understand the wider effect this has on freedom of expression is not simply a question of comprehending the number of deaths, tragic and unnecessary as they are. Unbelievable pressures force journalists into exile to protect their lives and those of their families. Self-censorship becomes the only effective means of protection. Even media blackouts are not enough to stop the bombings and armed attacks that stalk the media at every turn. 

"It is far too easy, and ultimately inaccurate, to blame the violence solely on the drug cartels that have devastated the lives of thousands of ordinary Mexicans, and captured so many of the international headlines. The reality is far more complex, the truth way more disturbing. Organised crime has infiltrated every aspect of life, corrupting the police, denigrating politics and ensuring government is woefully ineffective and powerless to combat its effects. Anyone who defies this logic and speaks out is targeted; our colleagues in the Mexican press know this only too well.

"Anabel Hernández is one of them. Anabel has professed to being driven to focus on investigative journalism after her father was kidnapped and murdered in Mexico City in December 2000. The police told her family that they would only investigate the crime if they were paid for it. The family refused, believing that even if they did pay, the police would charge anyone in order to collect the money.

"Out of this great personal tragedy, Anabel’s commitment and determination has revealed corruption at the highest levels of Mexican society. In 2001, she broke a story that uncovered vast public expenditure on the residence of the then president, Vicente Fox. Her report caused immediate controversy, as President Fox had promised to run a government of austerity; his popularity plummeted and a number of officials, including his wife, lost their jobs in his administration.

"Anabel’s investigative work led her to expose slave labour networks and the sexual exploitation of Mexican girls in the United States. This was before she began tackling the deadliest of subjects, the drug cartels. In her recent book, Los Señores del Narco / The Drug Lords, she details the complicities between organised crime and high-level authorities, from government officials to the police, the military and prominent businessmen. As a result, she has made herself the target of death threats from both state and non-state actors.

"WAN-IFRA recognises the unyielding stance Anabel has taken, at great personal risk, against drug cartels, organised crime and corrupt officials. Her actions have helped ensure the development of high quality, unrestricted investigative journalism throughout the region. This is at the very heart of why WAN-IFRA is honouring her today with the Golden Pen of Freedom.

"Anabel’s professed aim as an investigative journalist is to work against the presumption of anonymity that governs the actions of corrupt state officials in Mexico. She has said: 'corruption grows through silence. If journalists of my generation keep silent, if we give up on our work out of fear or complicity, journalists after us will be condemned to kneel to this corruption. I hope I will live… and see that this never happens.'

"While criminals rely on fear, fear itself thrives on silence. If silence kills a democracy, then it is left to a free press to speak out. The international media community has a duty, an obligation, to stand in support of its colleagues and insist that enough is enough: Mexico’s journalists should be afforded the highest protection, as its press is rapidly losing its freedom.

"In presenting the Golden Pen to Anabel Hernández today, we express our solidarity with all Mexican journalists, who despite constant threats and horrendous violence remain defiant in holding power to account. Criticism – not just in Mexico, but in every country - leads to the development of society. Far from weakening democracy, we believe that questioning, criticising, doubting and dissenting strengthens it. Governments that encourage criticism and openness demonstrate this strength. Such governments show responsibility and not disdain for their citizens. They protect and promote rights; ultimately, they encourage a free press to be the watchdog over all of this.

"It is time for the government of Mexico to step forward in support of freedom of expression and take meaningful, decisive action to end this spiralling tragedy before it claims any more lives. In making this award, WAN-IFRA and the World Editors Forum call on the Mexican authorities, and in particular the President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, to take urgent measures to end the violence against journalists and make an authentic commitment to prioritising the safety of media employees. It is the state’s responsibility to uphold international standards of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, I would now like to call Anabel Hernández to come forward to accept the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom."


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2012-08-22 14:06

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The Golden Pen of Freedom is WAN-IFRA's annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. Read more ...