Amman – A Lebanese and a Syrian journalist, both fellows of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), the region’s first specialized media support network, won the first and third prize respectively of Britain’s prestigious “Inquirer Award 2007” for print media in the Arab World. The two winners of the investigative reporter of the year award had received a financial grant, as well as training, coaching and legal support, from ARIJ, a non-profit organization seeking to support independent quality professional investigative journalism in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon since early 2006. The awards cover Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The event, organized by the British Foreign Service and the Thomson foundation, has been held annually since 2003. Ms. Fatima Rida, a reporter for the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, received the first award for an investigation into the thousands of people in Lebanon who do not have any official records. Ms. Lina Al Judi, a university student majoring in journalism, ranked third for an investigation into the disappearance of several archeological sites in Syria due to lack of legal enforcement and police guards, as well as citizen’s ignorance and poverty; it is the case of Bassira, a lost town in Eastern Syria. The second prize went to Mr. Raed Laffi from Palestine for an investigation into crimes of honor. “I am delighted to get the first prize, more so because I was evaluated by renowned media professionals,” said Ms. Rida, a reporter and editor for Al-Hayat since 2002. “But the prize will be more meaningful to me is if the issue that I have raised in my investigation, gets resolved”. “The prize that I have earned today is due to living human beings who carry no identity cards”. Both Ms. Rida and Ms. Judi, a freelance reporter for al-Hayat’s youth supplement, thanked ARIJ for providing them with “all possible moral, financial and professional support” that enabled them to complete investigations up to top international and regional standards of professional excellence. Ms. Judi said, “working to satisfy the highest standards and media professionalism and to respect the readers’ intelligence are two criteria that have helped me win today’s prize”. “Of course, it is a great feeling when the work of a passionate journalist gets evaluated and recognized by fellow professionals”, she added. “Thanks to all colleagues who helped me, especially to ARIJ, the network that allowed me to complete an investigation that was up to the standards set by the judges of the Inquirer Award”. These two winners, along with four other journalists, all ARIJ fellows, were among 17 finalists that made their way past the first round of judges from a total of 102 journalists that entered the 2007 competition. “The judges have told me they have seen marked improvement in the quality of material submitted to them for the 2007 awards compared to last year,” said UK ambassador to Jordan, Mr. James Watt, at the awards ceremony, held in Amman on February 29, 2008. “They said they found it very difficult to choose from”. ARIJ Executive Director, Ms. Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, said the wining of Mr. Rida and Ms. Judi is the first tangible result of unrelenting effort exerted over the past 16 months by all those involved in the ARIJ network. Those include renowned journalists, academics and media trainers from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Denmark, Finland, France and Sweden, as well as 120 journalists from the three countries where ARIJ operates, who have benefited from the network. “Every one of them has shared his/her professional experience to help set up high international standards of media excellence that are becoming the Arab benchmark for professionalism as required by investigative journalists worldwide,” Ms. Sabbagh-Gargour said. “All of them have demonstrated outstanding dedication to promoting the culture of investigative journalism across the Arab world”. A report of the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) has established that ARIJ is the only non-profit network offering media support to investigative journalists in the Arab world, based on a survey of 39 similar centers around the world, from North America to Brazil, the Philippines, and Bosnia. ARIJ is funded by the Danish parliament through the Copenhagen-based International Media Support under a four-year program ending in August 2009. The network strives to create a support structure for investigative reporters and editors, and to build a regional network of journalists, editors and associations, starting in the three countries of operation in a region in transition towards more political and economic reforms. One other partner is the Danish Association for Investigative Journalism (FUJ). The network is organizing the first Arab conference for investigative journalists in Amman, Jordan, towards the end of this November. The event will provide ARIJ fellows the first chance to meet with world renowned colleagues and exchange expertise. Break up sessions will be dedicated to thematic investigations, Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) and advanced Internet search. On the sidelines of the conference, ARIJ will also distribute its awards to Arab investigative reporters.