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RFE/RL Crimea Journalists Win Burke Award

BBG CEO John Lansing (center) and RFE/RL President Thomas Kent (right), listen to recorded comments by RFE/RL Crimea journalist Mykola Semena at the 2016 David Burke Awards ceremony in Washington.

WASHINGTON - The Broadcasting Board of Governors has recognized the professionalism and courage of the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service’s Crimea desk by presenting it with the 2016 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent accepted the prize on behalf of the journalists in a ceremony today presided over by BBG Chief Executive Officer John Lansing. Kent said the Crimea desk’s work provides “a lifeline for audiences in Crimea cut off from reliable local news,” and “serves audiences everywhere that want the truth about what’s happening on the peninsula.”

The BBG paid special tribute to Crimea desk contributor Mykola Semena, who is under house arrest in Simferopol on charges of “extremism” brought by the peninsula’s Russia-backed authorities. Semena, whose arrest prevents him from leaving the peninsula to receive urgently needed medical care, was awarded the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum’s Pavel Sheremet Journalism Award in absentia in Brussels on November 28, and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine’s Igor Lyubchenko Press Freedom Award on November 2.

Launched in March 2014, just days after Russia annexed the peninsula, the Crimea desk, known locally as Krym.Realii, is virtually the only remaining independent news source on the peninsula. It reports via radio, television, mobile, and digital platforms, and its website is published in the Ukrainian, Russian, and Crimean Tatar languages.

In 2015, the Russian research agency Medialogiya rated Krym.Realii the second most quoted news resource in Crimea, outranking high-profile Kremlin media mouthpieces RIA-News-Crimea and the First Crimean TV channel. For FY 2016, the website logged nearly 22 million visits and 46.5 million page views, while its YouTube videos were viewed 11 million times.

Krym. Realii’s website has been intermittently blocked on the peninsula since April 2016, and most of the desk’s journalists, having faced harassment and interrogations by Russia’s security service, have relocated to Kyiv for fear of their safety.

The David Burke Awards are named after David W. Burke, founding chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and leader for its first three years. The Burke Awards are presented annually to recognize the courage, integrity, and professionalism of journalists with the BBG.