Canadian Journalists for Free Expression honour courageous journalists who seek truth and report it whatever the obstacles, including jail and torture.

 By Kathy English, public editor for the Toronto Star

“I am a journalist and my job is to tell the truth.”

The mission and motto of any journalist, anywhere, does not get any simpler than that.

Speaking through a translator, Turkish investigative reporter Ahmet Şik delivered this universal message to more than 500 journalists gathered Wednesday for theCanadian Journalists for Free Expression’s annual “night to honour courageous reporting.”

Şik, a freelance writer and photographer who was thrown into a Turkish jail for 376 days for doing his job, was honoured with an International Press Freedom Award. So too was Eritrean journalist Mebrahtu Teclesion Berhe, who was imprisoned and tortured for speaking out about the injustices in his country where the state controls all media and journalists are severely restricted.

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Ranked dead last on the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Eritrea is one of the most heavily censored countries in the world. In Turkey, more journalists were imprisoned last year than any other place on the planet.


Restrictions on press freedom don’t get much worse than in these two nations.

The irony of these truths about the challenges to journalism and free expression in Turkey and Eritrea was not lost on the Canadian journalists who gathered to honour the “extraordinary courage” of Şik and Berhe, as well as Berhe’s colleagues and co-winners, Dessale Berekhet Abraham and Ruth Zecarias Ghebre, who were unable to come to Toronto to accept their awards.

Just hours before the CJFE gala, Toronto police documents detailing the disturbing extent of allegations of Mayor Rob Ford’s involvement with drugs and gangs were released by Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer. (An aside: This man deserves a press freedom award for his courageous stance in ruling these documents should be made public in the public interest.)

Listening to Şik and Berhe tell of the horrifying obstacles to reporting on corruption and injustice in their countries, many of us could not help but think about the relative press freedom we Canadians — journalists and citizens alike — take for granted.

Had they been reporting in Turkey, the Star’s investigative reporters Kevin Donovan and Robyn Doolittle would certainly have been jailed for reporting that the mayor of Canada’s largest city was seen in a video smoking crack cocaine and had associated with gang members. A justice system ruled by government censor would never have allowed such damaging truths to emerge.

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.