On Thursday, Nov. 24, CJFE hosted its annual gala to recognize and honour courageous journalism. Rhiannon Russell  tells of this year's gala, held at the Royal York hotel in Toronto, that focused on whistleblowing, the Arab Spring and how the movements have impacted free expression. 

On Thursday, Nov. 24, CJFE hosted its annual gala to recognize and honour courageous journalism. Rhiannon Russell  tells of this year's gala, held at the Royal York hotel in Toronto, that focused on whistleblowing, the Arab Spring and how the movements have impacted free expression. 

The audience rose to its feet as the names of the 89 journalists killed in 2011 appeared on the screens. A moment of silence.

It was a night to honour courageous reporting.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression held its annual gala last night at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Emceed by Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC, the event honoured this year’s CJFE award winners. About 500 journalists, media and others in the industry were in attendance.

Among them was Adam Nobody, a key figure in aftermath of last year’s G20 protest. The audience applauded when he was called out to from the podium.

The night also recognized a Canadian photo series. “The Arab Awakening: A Revolutionary Snapshot” featured photographs from Toronto Star journalists Michelle Shephard and Jim Rankin and New York Times freelancer Ed Ou. These photos were displayed around the room, and a video featuring the journalists who took them was shown. 

Here is a list of the 2011 CJFE award winners:

Vox Libera Award
Denise Donlon presented this award posthumously to Ron Haggart, a veteran Toronto journalist. He died in August.

“He was, more than anything, a tenacious upholder of free speech,” Donlon said. She presented the award to Haggart’s daughter Kelly.

In a clip from the Gemini Awards a couple years ago, played at the gala, Haggart said, “Will only the super tankers will be able to make waves anymore? How many voices will be there be soon? It's not time to worry, but it is time to watch what is happening in this country to journalism — it's time to watch, and it's time to watch out.”

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Integrity Award     
2011 was the inaugural year of the Integrity Award, which recognizes the need to protect the rights of whistleblowers – people who recognize unethical or corruptive practices in their workplace and expose these practices, often risking backlash and threats from their employer.

Three scientists — Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon, and Gerard Lambert — blew the whistle on the health risks of various drugs including Bovine Growth Hormone in 1998 and 1999. They were fired from Health Canada in 2004.

“The word ‘whistleblower’ does not exist in the dictionary,” Chopra said. “It’s been invented in recent times.” He held up a copy of his book Corrupt to the Core. “There is proof in this book…which no government can deny. It’s written in English and also in French, in case people say they don’t understand it in the other language,” Chopra said, the audience laughing. He said that, to him and his colleagues, this award is better than the Nobel Prize.

International Press Freedom Awards
These were awarded to Mohamed Abdelfattah of Egypt, and Khaled al-Hammadi of Yemen.

Abdelfattah, 24, has played an important role in journalism since the Arab Spring began. He posted information about civilians killed by government forces on his blog and covered the ensuing protests. He’ll be covering Egypt’s parliamentary elections next week. Abdelfattah was unable to attend the gala. “The military is still in control and travel permits could not be completed in time,” said Patrick Gossage, award presenter and chair of Media Profile.

The audience viewed Abdelfattah’s prerecorded acceptance speech. “The battle Egyptian journalists are going through now is intense and risky,” he said. “For the first time in our modern history, we dare to publish information that is critical of the military. This represents a sign of hope and determination.”

Al-Hammadi received a standing ovation when his name was announced. He came up the podium, waving both hands and smiling. “It is an appreciation for my hard work in a risky place,” he said. “Risks in Yemen are a daily routine for journalists.” He’s moved out of his home to protect his family’s safety and now lives in Change Square with the protesters.

 

Carol Off of CBC made closing remarks. She said the support of this event sends a message to journalists everywhere; they are not alone and we will act as shields to protect them. “Someone is now watching. You’re watching,” she said. “We are all in Tahrir Square.”

She thanked the audience for giving “the dictators, the despots, the tyrants of this world yet another bad day.”