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Iraqi journalist wins Gebran Tueni Award

(WAN-IFRA/IFEX) - Beirut, Lebanon, 10 December 2009 - Asos Hardi, the Editor in Chief and founder of the Awene newspaper in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been awarded the 2009 Gebran Tueni Award, the annual prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) that honours an editor or publisher from the Arab region.

Mr Hardi, who has gained a reputation as a newspaperman with exceptional leadership skills and high professional standards in a country where the media face great difficulties, will receive the award in a ceremony in Beirut on Saturday (12 December), the anniversary of the murder of Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese publisher who was killed by a car bomb in December 2005.

The award honours the editor or publisher who demonstrates the values incarnated in Mr Tueni: attachment to freedom of the press, courage, leadership, ambition, and high managerial and professional standards.

"This is not only a tribute to me, but also a tribute to free press, in Kurdistan and Iraq in general," said Mr Hardi.

"This does not mean, of course, that we have come to the end of the course and that the road ahead is paved with flowers," he said. "Iraq, and Kurdistan as a part of it, is still in transition, and we have a lot of hard work to do. There are still fears of a return backwards. But in Kurdistan, at least, we have covered an important, albeit brief, part of the road towards the consolidation of press freedom in our society."

Under Mr Hardi's leadership, Awene (The Mirror) has established itself as one of the truly independent newspapers in Iraq today. The paper reports a circulation of 17,000, employs 40 people, and plays an important role for the Kurdish Diaspora, providing Kurds abroad with the latest news from their home country.

Although Iraqi Kurdistan is seen as a more democratic and open society when compared to the rest of the region, it has several press laws that criminalize defamation, insult, slander and the publication of "false" information. In 2008, the parliament pushed for harsh new legislation setting heavy fines and allowing the government to close newspapers. As a result, the region has seen an increase in the number of journalists detained or jailed on criminal defamation complaints.

Newspapers in Iraqi Kurdistan also face the same obstacles as most media in developing countries: a limited advertising market, poor distribution networks and a general lack of infrastructure.

The award carries a 10,000 Euro scholarship to enable Mr Hardi to undertake advanced newspaper leadership training.

The inaugural Gebran Tueni Award, presented in 2006, was made to Nadia al-Saqqaf, Editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times. The 2007 and 2008 laureates are Michel Hajji Georgiou, a senior political analyst at the French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon, and Ibrahim Essa, Editor-in-Chief of Al Dustour, the daily newspaper in Egypt.

Gebran Tueni was a unique figure in the World Association of Newspapers for almost 20 years, as a leading member of its Press Freedom Committee, a Board member for more than a decade, a regular participant in missions to press freedom "hot spots" and a constant advisor and support to the leadership of the organisation on Arab and press freedom issues. WAN and the Tueni family created the award to encourage other courageous and independent publishers, editors and newspapers in the Arab world.

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