NPC celebrates courage of whistle blowers at Awards Night
August 8, 2013 | By Will Lester and John M. Donnelly | WJLester@aol.com
The National Press Club celebrated courage to tell the truth in adverse circumstances Tuesday when it bestowed the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards on the "Whistle-blower" and a Turkish journalist who has been jailed for reporting on controversial topics.
The domestic award recognizing the "Whistle-blower" honored an entire group of people, named and unnamed, who brave personal repercussions to expose wrongdoing. It is the first time the Club has honored a group of people, rather than an individual, with this award.
Some whistle-blowers are more controversial than others, but their ability to safely speak to the press is a core part of how democracy functions, speakers at the awards dinner said. Yet the government has increasingly sought to thwart whistle-blowers and the reporters they confide in through investigations and criminal charges. This year, the Obama administration named Fox News reporter James Rosen a criminal "co-conspirator" in a leak case and revealed it had secretly collected phone records from The Associated Press.
James Risen, a New York Times reporter spoke on behalf of whistle-blowers. Risen, who has battled a subpoena to reveal an anonymous source for five years, said whistle-blowers have it harder.
“We don’t face anything like the threats that these people face every day," Risen said.
Whistle-blowers possess core American traits and play a crucial role in news gathering, he said.
“I can’t think of any personality that is more American than a whistle-blower,” he said. “If you think about it, this country was really founded by people who got pissed off at governments.”
Zeynep Kuray, a Turkish reporter known for writing about controversial issues, including the conflict between Turkey's government and its Kurdish minority, won the international award.
“In Turkey, just like in many other countries, to say or write the truth is considered enough to be targeted by the authorities,” Kuray said in an overseas phone call to the awards dinner.
The Turkish government arrested Kuray in December 2011, charging her and dozens of her colleagues with acting as propagandists for an outlawed Kurdish political organization.
“The truth is not something that stays concealed by oppression. The expression of truth is not something that can be prevented,” she said Tuesday night. “Journalists concerned about their honor and ethics continue to be the collective voice of each victim of discrimination.”
National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane said conveying the truth to the public should be protected.
“We want people in government and industry to be able to tell the public _ via reporters _ things the public arguably has a right to know,” she said. “Reporters, for their part, need to be able to guarantee sources that they can protect their anonymity."
The ability to report the truth and do so safely isn't simply a matter for the press, Greiling Keane said.
"It matters for America and the world," she said.
The award is named after John Aubuchon, a former Press Club president and an ardent advocate of press freedom.
The Club’s Press Freedom Committee, chaired by John M. Donnelly, leads Club efforts to speak out about potential threats to press freedom and open government in the United States and abroad and to promote greater transparency and protections for journalists.
The National Press Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Founded in 1908, it comprises some 3,000 reporters and news sources.