ARIJ journalist wins 2017 Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award
Amman, June 7, 2017 – Assad Zalzali has won the 2017 Samir Kassir Award for Press Freedom for stories exposing how corruption in the award of contracts to private and public companies in Iraq has blocked access to schools for thousands of children.
Zalzali picked up his prize in Beirut Thursday. He produced his investigation with support from the Amman-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ). His 11-miuute video was broadcast on DW Arabic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyExBtez5EY&feature=youtu.be
Aseel Sarya and Ahmed Al Wasie, two Yemen-based journalists who exposed continued slavery in northern Yemeni governorates, also with support from ARIJ, were finalists for the prize. Both showed how tribal leaders, who have owned “slaves’ for generations, trade them in secret and finalize deals in Sharia courts in violation of Yemeni Civil Status Law and international human rights treaties.
ARIJ was launched in 2005 to promote investigative journalism through training and coaching in a region where the idea was unknown. Since then, Arab journalists interested in “accountability journalism” had have a place to go for financial and professional support including pre-broadcast legal screening to mitigate risks. Begun in three Arab states, ARIJ is now a network covering the whole Arab world.
Audiovisual news report category: Asaad Zalzali from Iraq, born in 1984, general manager of Maraya Media news agency. His seven-minute news report entitled “Project No1” was aired on Deutsche Welle Arabic on 11 January 2017. It unveils a major corruption scandal in Iraq that deprived the country from much needed school construction projects because of nepotism, rogue bankers and unaccountable politicians.
The Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press is funded by the European Union, and rewards journalists who have distinguished themselves through the quality of their work and their commitment to human rights and democracy. Organised every year since 2006, the Samir Kassir Award honours the memory of the Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir who was assassinated on 2 June 2005 in Beirut. The competition is open to journalists from the countries of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf. This year, the 191 applications that were received bring the total of participants since the creation of the award to more than 1,900. The prize awarded in each of the three categories is of €10,000.
The Head of the Delegation of the European Union, Ambassador Christina Lassen, underlined: “In the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf, many journalists and media suffer from the intimidating effects of harassment, threats, and attacks, particularly regarding critical coverage of government actions.” “But the picture is not only dire in the Middle East. In the last few years, we see an upsurge in independent and critical media where journalists use on-line media, blogs and websites to promote a new form of journalism. This is the kind of journalism that we encourage and promote,” she added.
Gisèle Khoury, President of the Samir Kassir Foundation, emphasised that “freedoms are violated every day. The press is paying the price of political disputes in the region. Under the pretext of security and fighting terrorism, the media is being attacked, website are getting blocked, and journalists are arrested. Journalists are also being arbitrarily dismissed from Arab media outlets without clear and transparent criteria. Recently, cases related to freedom of thoughts have been prosecuted by military courts.” She added: “Those of you who will check the works submitted by the candidates for the Samir Kassir Award will be amazed by what is written or shown. From Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon, fascinating and moving reports. Young journalists who want to uncover the truth and defend fellow Arab citizens.”
As in previous years, an independent jury selected the winners. It comprised seven media professionals from Europe and the Middle East: Yassir Mani Benchelah (Algeria), award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker; Martin Chulov (Australia), Middle East correspondent for The Guardian; Mark Daou (Lebanon), strategic communication expert and lecturer at the American University of Beirut; Alfred Hackensberger (Germany), North Africa and Arab countries correspondent for Die Welt; Michel Hajji Georgiou (Lebanon), columnist at L’Orient-Le Jour; Amina Khairy (Egypt), journalist at Al-Hayat; and Isabelle Lasserre (France), associate editor in chief of Le Figaro.
The ceremony was hosted by journalist Diana Moukalled, a columnist and TV producer.
His professional and intellectual life
Samir Kassir was born on May 4, 1960, to a Lebanese-Palestinian father and a Lebanese-Syrian mother. He grew up in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut and studied at the Lycée Français. In 1981, six years after the beginning of the Lebanese war, he moved to Paris to pursue his higher studies. In 1984, he received his Master’s degree in political philosophy from the Sorbonne (Université Paris I) and 1990, his PhD in contemporary history from Université Paris IV.
During the years he spent in Paris, he published a number of articles in the Al-Hayat and L’Orient-Le Jour newspapers. He also wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique and had regular contributions to The Seventh Day and the French edition of the Journal of Palestinian Studies.
In 1992, in collaboration with his friend, the Syrian historian and publisher Farouk Mardam Bey, he published “Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem”, a French book in two volumes, describing the French policy in the Arab Levant, especially in regards to the Palestinian Nakba and the Arab-Israeli conflict. A year after, he returned to Beirut to teach at Université Saint-Joseph’s political science institute and join the An-Nahar newspaper as an op-ed writer and the director of the paper’s publishing house.
In 1994, Samir published his second book in French “The Lebanon War”, based on his doctoral thesis, and analyzing the dynamics of the conflict as well as the intricate relations of internal and foreign factors during the 1975-1982 period. This book was translated to Arabic in 2008.
In 1995, Samir starts a monthly magazine “L’Orient-Express”, which rapidly became the most prestigious cultural periodical in Lebanon. The publication was interrupted in 1998 for financial reasons. In parallel, he founded “Al-Layali”, a publication house that released several books of articles initially published in “L’Orient-Express”, as well as catalogues of old colonial advertisements for Mediterranean cities and Egyptian movies from the 1960s and 1970s.
Samir Kassir’s articles and op-eds in An-Nahar in the late 1990s and early 2000s are still viewed as the boldest writings against the Syrian hegemony in Lebanon, the rule of former President Emile Lahoud, and the political role of security apparatuses. These articles pushed General Jamil Sayed, the former director general of the General Security, to threaten Kassir, get him chased, and confiscate his passport at the Beirut International Airport in April 2001, before returning it to him after the subsequent political and cultural outcry.
In 2003, Samir published his third book in French “History of Beirut” (translated to Arabic in 2007 and to English – titled “Beirut” – in 2011). The book describes the capital’s history, families, culture, economy, as well as its urban and social development, and its relations with other Lebanese regions, Arab and Mediterranean cities. After his book, a cornerstone of his intellectual life, Samir published in 2004 two books in Arabic: “Democracy in Syria and Lebanon’s Independence” and “Askar Ala Meen”, comprised of a series of Articles he had published in An-Nahar. The first book focused on the link between the democratic transition in Syria and Lebanon’s independence, while the second highlighted the contradiction between the principles of liberty and republican values on the one hand, and the political role of security apparatuses on the other.
Samir published another book in French “Considérations sur le malheur arabe” (English title: “Being Arab”), which was later translated to a dozen languages. The book analyses the reasons for the aborted Arab renaissance in the late 19th century, refutes the simplistic assessments condemning Arabs to an eternal decline, and points out to the geographical, rather than historical, reasons for Arab populations’ current misfortune.
His political journey
In the beginning of 2003, Samir Kassir played a role in the foundation of the Democratic Left Movement (DLM). In October 2004, he was elected as member of the Movement’s executive bureau, during DLM’s inaugural congress. His writings greatly inspired DLM’s discourse regarding Lebanon’s independence vis-à-vis the Syrian Baath Party’s hegemonic role, pacific transitions, secularism, social justice, state building, and rule of law.
After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, Samir Kassir actively participated in the launch of the wide popular uprising against the Syrian security apparatuses’ stranglehold on Lebanon. He gave the uprising its title “The Independence Intifada”, to highlight its patriotic, pro-independence nature, and echo the 1987 Palestinian Intifada against the Israeli occupation. His articles in An-Nahar became the Independence Intifada’s clearest and loudest voice. He was constantly present on Martyrs’ Square, discussing ideas and proposals to succeed in the recovery of the country’s sovereignty and freedom, with politicians, journalists, and students.
Samir Kassir was undoubtedly the first to warn that the Independence Intifada will not be able to sustain its momentum, in the absence of a political platform calling for political and economic reform, laying the foundation of a non-sectarian system, and allowing for a genuine political reconciliation, after the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon. He also was the first to call for an “Intifada within the Intifada” to keep the popular momentum alive, restore the nobility of politics and clarity of stances. In parallel, Samir Kassir opposed all forms of Lebanese racism toward the Syrian people in general, and constantly called upon the Lebanese people in his articles and in his speeches on Martyrs’ Square, no to mix up the Syrian regime and its intelligence service controlling Lebanon and Syria, on the one hand, with the Syrian people, workers, and intellectuals, on the other.
The Samir Kassir Foundation
Samir Kassir was assassinated on June 2, 2005, in Beirut, when a bomb placed under his car was detonated. The tragic death of this journalist and writer was one of many attempts to silence Lebanese free thinkers, put an end to the Independence Intifada, and prevent Beirut’s winds of liberty from spreading across the region. Samir Kassir, who wrote Beirut’s history, has therefore become a part of this history.
The model of intellectual renaissance embodied by Samir Kassir during his life and at the moment of his death, through his articles and academic research, has placed him at the avant-garde of Lebanese and Arab opinion leaders who have paid their life to fight tyranny and lead their country to freedom and independence.
Committed to Samir Kassir’s values and aspirations, and believing in the need to renew the Arab culture through freedom of expression, several intellectuals and friends of Samir Kassir established the Samir Kassir Foundation, officially incorporated in Beirut under registry number 30/A.D., dated February 1, 2006.
The Samir Kassir Foundation is a non-profit civic organization, working within the civil society and cultural circles to spread the democratic culture in Lebanon and the Arab world, encourage the new talents of free press, and build the movement for a cultural, democratic, and secular renewal. These are the conditions to lift the Arab populations out of their state of despair.
The Samir Kassir Foundation’s mission is built around three pillars:
- The first pillar: preserving, translating, and spreading Samir Kassir’s literary, academic, and journalistic heritage.
- The second pillar: promoting cultural freedom and free thought, through conferences, specialized seminars, and an annual art festival providing all social categories with access to international cultural expression.
- The third pillar: defending press freedom, through monitoring and documenting violations perpetrated against journalists and media professionals, and awarding prizes to young journalists.
The Foundation’s actions are not limited to the three aforementioned pillars. The Foundation is involved in all what honors Samir Kassir’s memory, and contributes to the fulfillment of his thrive for freedom and renaissance. These were the two aspirations to which Samir Kassir dedicated his life.
The contest is open to all journalists working in or for written (daily, weekly, monthly print or online) press, or audiovisual (TV stations, production houses, and online TV networks).
The award is open to nationals of the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Candidates must submit an opinion article, an investigative article, or an audiovisual report centered around one or more of the following topics: rule of law, human rights, good governance, fight against corruption, freedom of expression, democratic development, or citizen participation.
The article must have been published in a print or online media outlet in one of the countries listed above or in one of the European Union Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom).
The article must not exceed 25,000 characters and must have been published between March 15, 2016 and March 15, 2017. The audiovisual report must have been aired on a local or satellite television network or released on an online television network in one of the countries listed above or in one of the European Union Member States. The report must not exceed 7 minutes and must have been released between March 15, 2016 and March 15, 2017.
Each submission can only fall into one of the three above mentioned categories. Candidates for the opinion article and investigative article categories can only apply on an individual basis. Candidates for the audiovisual report category must either be the report’s director or the producer and may apply on an individual basis or jointly (director and producer).
The winner in each of the three categories will be awarded €10 000. The European Union holds the right to reproduce and publish the awarded articles and air the awarded audiovisual report in its own non-commercial publications and websites as well as in any other print or online publications related to the “Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press”.
The selection will be done by a jury composed of journalists and media professionals coming from EU Member States and the participating countries listed above.
Members of the jury, staff of the European Union, and staff and members of the Samir Kassir Foundation are excluded from the contest.