ICFJ award winners show the power of journalism in dangerous times



By ICFJ

Global Business Journalism partner


The International Center for Journalists' Tribute to Journalists 2021 celebrated outstanding journalists who produce stellar work in the public interest even as the landscape for truth tellers becomes more perilous around the world. Master of ceremonies Wolf Blitzer of CNN led the audience through an inspiring virtual program on Nov. 9. The one-hour program featured remarks by honorees, as well as other journalists who are part of ICFJ’s vast network. Among the evening’s highlights:

  • Bill Whitaker, a globe-trotting reporter for CBS News for nearly four decades, noted that “these are unsettling times.” The “60 Minutes” correspondent said journalists are under siege because they provide honest, factual information, “and truth is like kryptonite to autocrats and criminals cloaked in power.” Whitaker received the ICFJ Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism for a lifetime commitment to the highest professional standards. Read more and watch his tribute video.


  • Anne Applebaum, a journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, saluted colleagues who pay “an enormous personal price” to write the first draft of history and inform their fellow citizens and the world of what is happening. Applebaum, a staff writer for The Atlantic, received the ICFJ Award for Excellence in International Reporting for her keen insights and commentary on the rise of authoritarianism. Read more and watch her tribute video.


  • Pavla Holcová, founder of a groundbreaking investigative journalism site in the Czech Republic, completed a report she had begun with a colleague who was brutally murdered, helping to bring down the Slovak government in the process. “This recognition is not for me. It is for all the people who make change happen, including those in Slovakia who protested the murders” of her colleague and his fiancée. Holcová, also a key journalist in the recent Pandora Papers investigation, was recognized with ICFJ’s Knight International Journalism Award. Read more and watch her tribute video.


  • The other Knight Award winner, Natália Leal, said fact-checkers in her native Brazil suffer online harassment every day from both sides of the political spectrum. She said, “People ask me why fact-check when it can be so hard and unpleasant? My answer is simple: We need to fight against misinformation.” Leal heads the trailblazing Brazilian site, Agência Lupa, which debunked massive amounts of deadly pandemic misinformation from President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies. Read more and watch her tribute video.


  • Maria Ressa, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, thanked ICFJ for supporting her and Rappler, the news outlet she founded, and for conducting a “big data study” showing the extent of online attacks intended to silence her. She noted that this year was the first time since 1936 that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists (Ressa and Russian editor Dmitry Muratov). “That’s the signal that we’re being given now, that this is a moment, an existential moment, where being a journalist requires far more sacrifices.” Ressa received ICFJ’s Knight Award in 2018. Watch her remarks.


  • Samiullah Mahdi, a 2012 recipient of ICFJ’s Knight Award, called on the international community to protect journalists in Afghanistan as the new Taliban government cracks down on the country’s once-vibrant media community. He said more than 150 media outlets have been closed by the Taliban, while hundreds of journalists have fled the country and others have been detained and tortured as harsh new censorship rules take effect. Watch his remarks.

The show featured drawings by New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly and an auction of stunning photos sponsored by National Geographic. The magazine donated 24 photos showcasing innovations in visual storytelling from drones to smartphones.


ICFJ is a founding partner of the Global Business Journalism program. Former ICFJ president Joyce Barnathan, who retired this year, was the driving force behind the creation of the GBJ program at Tsinghua University in 2007. The awards dinner featured a tribute video honoring Barnathan's accomplishments during her 15 years as ICFJ president.



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