Journalists working for RFE/RL take big risks to tell important stories. On January 24, a panel of their peers gave special recognition to five of the most compelling reports produced in 2012. They were chosen from among 36 winners of RFE/RL's bi-monthly in-house competitions and honored at a "Best of RFE/RL" ceremony at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters.
Winners were selected by a panel of judges chaired by Regional Director Nenad Pejic and consisting of Daisy Sindelar of Central News, Salome Asatiani of the Georgian Service, Janyl Jusupjan of the Kyrgyz Service, and Daud Khan of Radio Mashaal.
The award-winning reports are highlighted below.
# Radio Svoboda correspondent Irina Chevtayeva won for her story "Как я полюбила Путина за 500 рублей" ("How I Fell In Love With Putin For 500 Rubles"), for which she posed as a participant in a February 4, 2012 demonstration in support of then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid for a second term as president. Chevtayeva exposed Putin campaign middlemen who advertised that they were looking for "movie extras," and offered food, alcohol, and even cash to court rally participants--many of whom left the demonstration in disgust when they didn't receive payment. "Like a good Russian novel, Chevtayeva's article is a masterpiece of absurdity," said Sindelar. "But this is a real story, and her telling of it is clear-eyed, brave, and utterly original."
# Torokul Doorov of Radio Azattyk visited the Sulukta coal mines in southern Kyrgyzstan to report on the poverty-stricken families forced to send their children to work mining coal for his radio documentary, "Шахтадагы балалык" ("Childhood in the Sulukta Coal Mines"). As Doorov noted in his acceptance speech, not long after his story aired, several NGOs and children's charities operating in Kyrgyzstan told him of their redoubled efforts to keep children out of the mines in Sulukta.
# Vahid Pour Ostad of Radio Farda was recognized for his radio documentaries "Solitary Confinement" (link to audio in Persian) and "Born In Prison" (link to English article), for the stories of Iranian political prisoners. The judges commended Pour Ostad for the "remarkably minimalist and simple form" of his reporting on these "horrific stories." As Radio Farda Editor in Chief Niusha Boghrati said, "There are un-imaginable methods of demoralizing and breaking down the political prisoners, practiced in each of [the prisons]. And for each prison and each method, there are hundreds of unheard stories."
# Central Newsroom reporter Richard Solash and Radio Tavisupleba Tbilisi Bureau chief Marina Vashakmadze won for their collaboration on the story "For U.S. Athlete and Georgian Birth Family, A Past And Present Revealed," about a Georgian mother, forced by poverty to give up her disabled daughter at birth, who recently learned that her daughter, Elizabeth Stone, had achieved international success as a Paralympic athlete with the support of her adoptive parents in the United States. "The Stones told me that they are saving up to travel to Georgia to meet the [birth family]. Perhaps they'll go this summer," said Solash. "If so, it will be a chance for another great, human story."
# The staff of Radio Mashaal was honored for their team coverage of the Pakistani Taliban's October attack on schoolgirl and girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai. Though the story quickly went global, Radio Mashaal was among the first to report on the assassination attempt and provided continuing coverage that was "original, directly-sourced, and infused with an intimate understanding of the region, the issue, and Malala herself, [something] that few media outlets were able to provide."
Honorable mention went to Natiq Zeynalov of the Azerbaijani Service for innovation in data visualization with his interactive infographics, and to Sabawoon of Radio Free Afghanistan's Kabul bureau for enterprising video journalism.
RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, and provides what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.
-- Emily Thompson