IPI and IMS are proud to announce that distinguished Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a pioneering figure for women in media in the Middle East who was killed while on assignment this year, and El Salvador’s Carlos Dada, co-founder and director of El Faro, one of Latin America’s most prominent online investigative news outlets, are this year’s World Press Freedom Heroes.
The World Press Freedom Hero award honours journalists who have made significant contributions to promote press freedom, particularly in the face of great personal risk. Launched by the International Press Institute (IPI) in 2000, the award is now given in partnership with International Media Support (IMS). Past recipients include prominent journalists such as Lydia Cacho, Mazen Darwish, and Anna Politkovskaya.
Abu Akleh dedicated her career to reporting on a range of issues in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, often risking her life to work on the frontlines. She inspired millions across the Arab world with her professionalism and dedication to pursuing the truth. This past May, Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli snipers while on assignment. Those responsible for her killing have not been brought to justice.
Dada and his team at El Faro, one of the first digital-focused news outlets in the region, have earned a reputation for rigorous, high-quality investigative journalism, uncovering important stories in El Salvador and neighbouring countries despite continuous threats by the Salvadoran state and criminal organizations.
The IPI-IMS World Press Freedom Hero award will be presented together with the IPI-IMS Free Media Pioneer award during a special ceremony on September 9, 2022, at Columbia University in New York City, as part of IPI’s annual World Congress.
This year’s Hero award recipients were selected by an international jury comprised of IPI; IMS; 2018 World Press Freedom Hero Rafael Marques de Morais of Angola; Siddharth Varadarajan, editor-in-chief of India’s The Wire, which received the 2021 Free Media Pioneer Award; and Iryna Vidanava, co-founder and CEO of CityDog.io, a leading independent online media in Belarus.
A pioneer of investigative reporting and online journalism in El Salvador and Latin America, Carlos Dada is the co-founder and director of digital news outlet El Faro, which is the first digital-only news outlet in Latin America. Dada and entrepreneur Jorge Simán founded El Faro in 1998 in the aftermath of El Salvador’s long civil war. Their mission was to establish a news outlet completely independent of any political influence and to defend press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.
Over the decades, El Faro has become a paragon of investigative journalism in Central America with its fearless coverage of violence, corruption, inequality, and human rights violations. The news outlet’s investigations have uncovered several cases of high-level corruption in El Salvador, including cases involving former presidents Mauricio Funes and Antonio Saca. El Faro is known for its unique style of investigative reporting, which sees teams of journalists uncovering specific cases sometimes for several years at a time, establishing large and in-depth networks for information.
In addition to leading El Faro, Dada himself is a renowned journalist. He has reported from various conflict zones around the world and spent years researching war crimes, drug trafficking, migration, and environmental issues in Central America.
Alongside his team, Dada has been the target of threats and attacks by various governments of El Salvador as well as criminal organizations linked to drug trafficking. Most recently, in 2022, Canada’s Citizen Lab revealed that the phones of Dada and 21 of his colleagues were hacked and surveilled using the infamous Pegasus spyware during a time when El Faro was investigating links between the Salvadoran government and criminal organizations.
Dada has faced immense pressure and countless threats for his work over the years. Notably, the current president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has ramped up intimidation of Dada and El Faro in recent times. Despite surveillance, smear campaigns, and persecution by an increasingly authoritarian government, Dada has vowed to continue El Faro’s rigorous journalism to hold those in power accountable.
Dada said of the IPI World Press Freedom Hero award: “I am honoured by such a recognition, and humbled to receive it after such brave defenders of press freedom around the world. At a time when Central American states have fallen into the hands of antidemocratic and authoritarian populists that prosecute and threaten journalists, I hope this award sheds light on the perils faced by all my colleagues in the region, who nonetheless keep working, convinced that freedom cannot be surrendered, and that silence is not an option.”
Shireen Abu Akleh
One of the most prominent journalists in the Middle East, Shireen Abu Akleh was renowned for her decades-long reporting in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. During her 25 years working as a reporter and frontline correspondent for Al Jazeera, the Palestinian-American journalist reported extensively on numerous major events in Palestinian history while also helping analyze the political situation.
Abu Akleh dedicated her life to uncovering injustice and the dire situation of Palestinians due to the prolonged Israeli occupation. She also reported on Palestinian success stories and accomplishments.
Her accuracy and professionalism, as well as her distinct signoffs, made her a household name across the Arab world. And her example inspired many Palestinian and Arab women to pursue careers in journalism.
As fellow World Press Freedom Hero Daoud Kuttab wrote earlier this year: “The soft-spoken voice, the emotionless face and the factual words of Shireen Abu Akleh will be forever imprinted in the hearts and minds of most Arabs”. He added: “Despite the high emotions of the Palestinian protests, deaths, house demolitions and human rights violations she covered, Abu Akleh’s demeanor was always professional.”
On May 11, 2022, Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli sniper fire while reporting on the ground about an Israeli military raid on a refugee camp in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Many eyewitness accounts and independent investigations have concluded that the gunfire aimed at Abu Akleh and other reporters came from Israeli soldiers and that the journalists were deliberately targeted despite wearing distinctive press signs on their vests and helmets. Abu Akleh was shot in the back of her head and rushed to a hospital where she was declared dead. Days later, at her funeral procession, Israeli police attacked the mourners who attended, beating them with batons.
Abu Akleh’s killing sent shock waves through the journalism community, and press freedom organizations around the world demanded an independent investigation into the case. Abu Akleh was the latest in a lengthy list of journalists killed by the Israeli military. According to UNESCO, in addition to Abu Akleh, at least 18 journalists in Palestine have been killed by Israeli forces since 2002, and hundreds have been subjected to arrests, destruction of equipment, and physical attacks.
All states have a duty to investigate attacks on journalists promptly, thoroughly, and independently, and to prosecute those responsible – even in conflict zones. The deliberate targeting of journalists during armed conflict constitutes a war crime. Moreover, under international law, Israel as an occupying power is obliged to protect occupied people, including journalists. The Israeli government has failed to meet these obligations on several occasions, and Abu Akleh’s killing is no exception.
Abu Akleh was a trailblazer and role model for journalists in the Middle East, especially women journalists, and her ultimate sacrifice for journalism and the free flow of information will not be forgotten.
Abu Akleh’s niece Lina Abu Akleh said of the World Press Freedom Hero award:
“Thank you IPI and IMS for honouring Shireen’s legacy through the World Press Freedom Hero award. It is through these notable awards that Shireen’s memory will live on forever, and generations to come will continue learning about her and her work. I am proud to call Shireen my aunt, and my hero. She inspired generations of young women and men to pursue careers in journalism. Shireen was a hero and a brave soul who gave voice to the silenced Palestinians. She not only reported on the struggles of the Palestinians, but she also captured their steadfastness and resilience. This award is a testament to her exceptional legacy and heroism.”
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said:
“This year’s World Press Freedom Hero award recognizes two journalists who represent the best of what our industry has to offer: courage, professionalism, and a commitment to the truth.
Carlos Dada is a pioneer of watchdog journalism in El Salvador and Central America. This year’s award honours the indispensable work of Dada and the entire El Faro team; but it also serves to highlight the increasing pressure on critical journalism in the region. And in honouring Shireen Abu Akleh, the jury has made it clear that while her voice may have been silenced, her legacy and inspiration live on.
The IPI global network stands with our colleagues at El Faro and across Central America as they face increasing pressure for doing their job. And we remain unwavering in our fight to secure justice for Shireen.”
IMS Executive Director Jesper Højberg said:
“Latin America has sometimes gone under the radar. While we often, and for good reasons, talk about Mexico – the world’s deadliest country for journalists – it is important for us to acknowledge with this prize that so many brave journalists across Latin America are working in increasingly hostile environments. Carlos Dada is certainly one of them, and he and his team at El Faro are an inspiration both when it comes to media innovation and investigative journalism.”
“Shireen Abu Akleh should first and foremost be remembered as a talented journalist who provided us with decades of solid, trustworthy and important reporting from Palestine. With this prize, we honour her work, we condemn her murder, and we reiterate the call for those responsible for her death to be held accountable.”