18th November 2001
Members of the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) have voted at their annual conference to award the Institute’s Gold Medal to “the independent press of Zimbabwe”.
The last Gold Medal to be awarded by the CIoJ was given to the former Speaker of the House of Commons, Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd, “for services to freedom of speech”. Other recipients have included reporter John McCarthy, who was kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon, and Harold Evans, the former editor of the Sunday Times, for that newspaper’s campaign on behalf of Thalidomide children.
A resolution proposed by the Institute’s Vice-President, Stuart Notholt, and seconded by Dr Ken Merddyn Jones of the CIoJ’s International Division, won the unanimous support of conference. The resolution stated:
“In recognition of the contribution made by the independent press of Zimbabwe to freedom of speech and human rights, in the face of continual state-sponsored intimidation and harassment, this Conference resolves to make the award of the CIoJ Gold Medal to the free press of Zimbabwe.”
During a wide-ranging debate on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, CIoJ conference delegates paid tribute to the courage and fortitude shown by editors and staff of that country’s remaining independent newspapers.
“As an organization representing not just independent journalists and news gatherers in the UK, but colleagues throughout the Commonwealth, we have an interest and responsibility for ensuring that professional journalists are free to conduct their lawful activities without fear of harassment or illegal detention,” said the CIoJ’s General Secretary, Chris Underwood.
“We have been concerned for some time about the deterioration of press freedoms in Zimbabwe, where increasing cases of violence and harassment against journalists have been recorded since 1999. In view of the current political climate in that country, it is no exaggeration to state that Zimbabwe’s independent journalists are the main guarantors of what remains of civil society in that country.”
He continued: “Awarding the CIoJ’s Gold Medal to the free press of Zimbabwe highlights our support for the efforts of these journalists to tell the truth about one of the world’s most vicious and anti-democratic regimes.”
The CIoJ is planning a ceremony to present the Gold Medal to a representative of the Zimbabwean free press early in the New Year. Elections are due to take place in Zimbabwe before April 2002, but the Government of President Robert Mugabe has so far refused to allow international observers to monitor the electoral process. As well as harassing and intimidating Zimbabwean newspaper staff, foreign journalists who have highlighted the appalling human rights situation in Zimbabwe have been expelled from the country.
h The guest speakers at this year’s CIoJ Annual Dinner were Robin Oakley, European Political Editor of CNN (and ex-BBC Political Editor) and Bob Marshall-Andrews, the outspoken Labour MP for Medway. The two-day conference and dinner were held at the Bridgewood Manor Hotel, Rochester, Kent. Delegates were welcomed to Rochester by the Mayor of Medway at a civic reception in their honour.