WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a year when journalists have been explicitly targeted by people and forces who see freedom of information as a threat to their power, the National Press Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute are recognizing two groups who have been on the front lines of the struggle with its annual Press Freedom Awards. The awards will be presented on October 4, 2017 at the Club's annual Fourth Estate Award gala honoring sports journalists Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon.
The White House Correspondents' Association and the press corps of Mexico are the winners of the National Press Club's 2017 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award. Each year, the club honors two recipients of the award, one domestic and one foreign, for demonstrating through their work the principles of press freedom and open government.
While there are a number of worthy potential recipients this year, the Club and Journalism Institute chose the White House Correspondents' Association for its tireless — and often thankless — efforts to maintain lines of communication with the leaders of our government and stand up for public access, all while enduring insults, public ridicule and not-so-veiled threats.
"It is an exercise of poise under pressure to maintain your professionalism under those circumstances," said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute board. "We salute the work of journalists who can go back to the same sources day after day without letting their personal feelings get in the way of their duty to inform the public."
In honoring the WHCA, the Club and its Institute also acknowledge the work of all beat reporters and the associations who represent them, both in Washington and well beyond the Beltway. As panelists at a number NPCJI events have noted this year, the toxic environment for reporters in Washington is making it more difficult for journalists at a state and local level to keep the public informed.
"We hope this award will serve as a reminder to people in positions of power everywhere of the important role the Fourth Estate plays in our democracy," Cochran said.
The U.S. is dimming as a beacon of hope for free press advocates at a time when the situation is particularly dire for our colleagues just south of the border.
This year saw the slayings of two prominent journalists, Miroslava Breach Velducea — shot eight times in front of one of her three children — and Javier Valdez Cardenas. Patricia Mayorga, the winner of a Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award, is currently in a safe house because of the death threats she has received. Reporters Without Borders classifies Mexico as the deadliest country in the western hemisphere for the media.
Despite this, Martin Mendez, a young journalist from Acapulco who fled after his reporting on public corruption led to death threats, spent months in an El Paso detention center while U.S. authorities reviewed his asylum case.
Mendez entered the country legally, accompanied by an American asylum lawyer; was found by U.S. authorities to have "credible fear" of returning to his homeland and had the support of a wide range of U.S. journalism organizations, including the National Press Club. Nonetheless, he was shackled and treated like a criminal during four months of detention that he described as "hell." Eventually he gave up and returned to Mexico, where he has been in hiding.
Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto fled to the United States in 2008 after he received a report that Mexican military personnel were trying to kill him for his reporting. He has been trying since then to get asylum to remain in America.
Because journalists brave enough to expose public corruption and take on drug cartels represent hope, not only for Mexico but for its neighbors, the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute are proud to shine a light on the work being done by Mexican journalists. We hope it will get them the public support that they deserve.
The National Press Club, founded in 1908, is a leading professional organization for journalists. Through its non-profit Journalism Institute and its Press Freedom Team, the club stands up for journalists, transparency and freedom of speech at home and abroad.