World Association of Newspapers: Najam Sethi awarded Golden Pen of Freedom
BEIRUT: Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of The Friday Times, Daily Times, and Aaj Kal, has been awarded the 2009 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), the top print media body in the world.
He “was honoured for his outstanding defence and promotion of press freedom under difficult circumstances and constant personal danger,” WAN said, adding his newspapers advocate liberal and progressive ideas in the face of religious extremism.
“Extremists have always used coercion to silence their critics and that is exactly what is happening now,” Sethi says. “This is a battle that the media and the country cannot afford to lose.”
Due to the editorial policies of the newspapers, which condemn autocracy and religious fundamentalism, Sethi has been at odds with both Pakistani authorities and extremists for many years, the association said. He has also been jailed and beaten for offending governments in the past.
“All journalists are aware of the dangers of inciting extremists who violently oppose reporting that is contrary to their view of the world,” said the Board of the Paris-based WAN, meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, in making the award. “Mr Sethi has chosen, in a region fraught with such dangers, to brave them. His commitment to providing truthful and independent coverage in this region, despite great personal danger and sacrifice, is in the best traditions of journalism. We think the award will inspire others to resist such pressure.”
The award will be presented at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global summit meetings of the world's press, to be held from March 22 to 25.
In 1999, he was imprisoned for “anti-national activities” after he participated in a BBC documentary in which he spoke negatively of then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and corruption in the Pakistani government. He was released after four weeks and charges were dropped after an international outcry pressured the Nawaz government to release him. He has long reported on corruption at the highest levels of Pakistan's government.
WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina's Jacobo Timerman (1980), South Africa's Anthony Heard (1986), China's Dai Qing (1992), Vietnam's Doan Viet Hoat (1998), Zimbabwe's Geoffrey Nyarota (2002), and Iran's Akbar Ganji (2006). The 2007 and 2008 awards both went to Chinese journalists, Shi Tao and Li Changqing.
Founded in 1948, the World Association of Newspapers groups 76 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 102 nations, 10 news agencies, and 10 regional press organisations. It is a non-profit, non-government organisation. In all, the association represents more than 18,000 publications on five continents.
Publishers, directors and chief editors in most countries are also individual members of the World Association of Newspapers. Associate members of WAN include the Agence France Presse and Reuters news agencies.