“To praise famous men is not enough”

Speech by Sir Harold Evans*
The IPI World Press Heroes Ceremony
Vienna, September 13, 2010

We meet tonight in pride… and sadness for the many who sacrificed their lives for truth.

And with pride in their achievements and those of all IPI’s  world press heroes, a veritable alphabet of valor and honor from A to Z from Aslam Ali to Jose Zamora.

It is fitting that we do this on a birthday. Our birthday. The sixtieth birthday of IPI is a landmark. We honor those men and women who created and sustained our institution in the aftermath of the greatest war the planet has endured. Among the stalwarts: Jim Rose, Tarzie Vittachi, KM Mathew, Beuve Mery, Mochtar Lubis, Ceril Wickeremsinge, Raymond Louw.

Cynicism and despair might have been the war’s legacy. 

Instead, they offered a rededication to the best ideals of journalism of a parallel with the political and economic institutions that gave us security, prosperity and peace on the ashes of Europe and Asia.

It is right to be proud of the deeds of the 60 men and women whom the IPI has named as World Press Heroes. Well, 59.

But neither sadness nor pride is enough. 

It would be understandable to feel, as well, a certain rage, for we already know that despite our protests, despite our committees, despite all the efforts to protect the messengers, more names  will be inscribed on the Freedom Forum wall of victims in Washington.  Murder, is the single leading cause of journalists’ deaths on assignment.  Inevitably it seems we will yet again have to acknowledge that the moving finger, having writ, all our piety and wit cannot lure it back to cancel half a line, our tears wash a word out of it.

But rage is a sterile emotion.

No amalgam of pride, sadness and rage, is sufficient for commemoration. 

Above all, above all we have to reflect on what the common thread was among these men and women of such different backgrounds, from such different cultures.

Their aspiration. They believed in the purpose of journalism.

They didn’t, most of them, expect to die for it. They may have been prudent or reckless, they may have been blind to the risks they ran or everyday they may have confronted the prospect of harassment, and brutality and death. They may have practiced journalism with varying skills and purposefulness in print and broadcasting and today the Web. They may, being human, have erred.

But nothing in the record diminishes the conviction I am sure I share with you tonight that they believed theirs was an honorable craft – profession if you like – rooted in reason, dedicated to truth, sustained by a sense of the common good, given inspiration by the achievements of others around the world in a universal brotherhood.

I cannot but think of my personal friends. Of Abdi Ipecki, editor in chief of Milliyet, Turkey’s influential newspaper, telling me in London of what the example and support of his international peers – you! – meant to him in his ceaseless campaign for national unity and reconciliation against violence and terrorism. Abdi brought warring Greek and Turkish journalists together to agree on professional standards that would defuse the competition in hate.  He went home from our lunch in London to be gunned down, on February 1, 1979, by the right wing militant Agca who later tried to assassinate the Pope. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit rightly said the bullets which killed him were intended for Turkey’s democracy and constitutional order. It’s a shame that media – you again! – rarely mention Abdi’s heroism when running stories about his killer who is now free.

I think of the young reporter-editor Serajuddin Hussein from the Dhaka Herald who came to an IPI seminar in the Philippines.  He was moved by a talk on investigative journalism by Amitabha Chowdhury from Calcutta. Serajuddin went home to expose a gang that kidnapped, maimed and blinded hundreds of children so they would be more effective beggars on the city streets. In the civil war out of which came the new nation of Bangladesh, Serajudin was murdered as an “intellectual,” his body thrown in a brick pit. 

I think of my reporter Nick Tomalin of The Sunday Times, teasingly skeptical in his musings about the real duty of the journalist when he volunteered to go to the Yom Kippur war.  He wrote me a note in which he remarked, “Our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Nick was targeted on the Golan Heights and killed by a wire-guided Syrian rocket.

Every one of our sixty World Press heroes is a different story, but there is a common thread that tells us how we should honor them. 

To praise famous men is not enough. 

Mark Antony spoke too well that the good that men do is oft interred with their bones.  We should see that the good that our heroes did or at their best longed to do should live after them.

We should honor them by resolve and by rebuke.

By the resolve to keep faith ourselves with their best aspirations, and to be forthright in rebuking those who carelessly and ceaselessly do not. 

Every time a reporter slants the facts, writes a story to fit his preconception, allows the ‘unclouded face of truth’ to suffer wrong, he betrays a world press freedom hero.  We should tell him or her so.

Every time a journalist anywhere foments sectional hatred, he shames the legacy of Bosnia’s Kemal Kurspahic, of Serbia’s Veran Matic, of Abdi Ipecki, of Aslam Ali in Pakistan, of Amira Hass in Israel, and Daoud Kuttub prosecuted by both Palestinian and Israeli authorities, of Omar Belhouchet in Algeria, of British Colombia’s Tara Singh Hayer murdered for espousing tolerance.

Every time a journalist takes a bribe, or his management accepts payment for counterfeit news, he disgraces May Chidiac, blown up in Lebanon for defending free speech, and Syria’s Nizar Nayouf who endured prolonged torture rather than sacrifice a principle of journalism and Chile’s Juan Pablo Cardenas, in prison for 541 nights and Iran’s Akbar Ganji who endured torture and six years some of it in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison, and Mexico’s Jesus Blancornelas who fearlessly reported on the Tijuana drug cartels and government corruption. 
Every time a journalist is harassed to reveal a source he should reflect on the ordeals of Samoa’s Savea Sano Malifa who never would. Every time a journalist indulges in cocaine, heroin, meth, the current poisons or tolerates their evil, he or she is an accomplice to the murder of Columbia’s Guillermo Can, gunned down for exposing the corrupt connections with government.

Every time, a journalist invents a story, fabricates a quote, elevates a personal conviction over a professional curiosity, he betrays ten names on our roll of honor.

Every time a news organization puts excessive profit before excellence it betrays every name.  We should tell them so. 

Every time a journalist maliciously sets out to destroy a reputation, he dishonors these heroes.

Every time a journalist in a country with a free press protected by law or tradition abuses the freedom by personal vendetta or political manipulation, he betrays all those around the world who struggle with half the freedoms and to liberate journalism.  I think India’s Arun Shourie whose success in the Supreme Court defending his exposure of the blinding of 33 prisoners enlarged the freedom of the whole of the Indian press.

Every time a journalist joins the press pack, recycling rumor, trading in second hand sources, accepting the easy feed, grossly invading privacy by telephone bugging of the kind we’ve just seen in London, he betrays the brave individualism of a name on the roll. 

Every time a photographer grossly exploits private grief, he betrays a name.

Every time a journalist settles for second best, he betrays a world press hero. 

I think now of my young reporter David Blundy. He did not recklessly expose himself to danger, but he never ceased to expose himself to doubt, a risk quite a few in journalism go to great lengths to avoid. Assigned to El Salvador, he doubted whether he had met the tasks he set himself in reporting the civil war. On November 17, 1989, he had already filed a good dispatch to London. Then that Saturday morning, he called in to say he was going out in the barrio to see if he could top it up with last paragraph.

There on the street, a bullet took his life.

For one last paragraph.

Every time a news organization closes its eyes to the world – and I think most of the television networks shutting so many bureaus – it betrays all those on the roll who gave their lives in the course of letting us see. 

We should tell them so. 

Every time an editor yields to threats he dishonors the memory of Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya and of Ireland’s Veronica Guerin who ended a reign of terror in Ireland and was gunned down for persisting, the first killing of a journalist in the Republic of Ireland. And let’s mark how remarkable are all the women we acknowledge as world press heroes. In her pregnancy, Namibia’s Gwen Lister did not pause in the exposure of injustice, refusing to reveal her sources at the cost of vindictive prosecutions, arrest and arson. 

Laurence Binyon wrote: 

“They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, not the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them”

In all the heat of daily deadlines, in all the pressures of ambition and routine cynicism, let us remember our heroes with sadness and pride, yes, but most of all let us honor them with resolve.

In dedication, in Lincoln’s words, “to the unfinished work which they have thus so far nobly advanced” with “increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” 

On this memorable evening we ourselves are honored to stand in the radiance of our world press heroes, and so we rededicate ourselves to their cause.  

*Sir Harold Evans is one of the 60 Press Freedom Heroes honoured by International Press Institute to mark its 60th anniversary in Vienna one 12-14 September.