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RFE/RL Colleagues Celebrate 2011 Stories Of The Year

RFE/RL News Director Jay Tolson congratulates Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL's Azeri Service on her award for one of the five best stories of 2011. Ismayilova's story on public corruption in Azerbaijan led to changes in government policy.
Whether it was uncovering state cronyism in Azerbaijan, documenting systematic rape in Kyrgyzstan, remembering genocide in the Balkans, live-tweeting from a charged courtroom in Russia, or broadcasting the desperate story of Georgian sailors, RFE/RL’s journalists profoundly affected the world of their listeners in 2011.

Journalists from across RFE/RL bureaus gathered in Prague on November 8 to celebrate five of the year’s most compelling news stories from RFE/RL's editors, reporters and stringers across the globe. The reports came in a varied mix of languages and media, reaching audiences via radio, website, video, and Twitter.

Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL’s Azeri Service won hard-earned plaudits for a courageous investigative report that revealed a tangled web of nepotism and greed in Azerbaijan. “Azerbaijani President’s Daughters Tied To Fast-Rising Telecoms Firm,” recounted the story of Azerfon, a mobile telecommunications provider that claimed to be owned by Siemens and other Western firms. Azerfon had seen a meteoric rise largely on the basis of its state-guaranteed monopoly on 3G mobile service within Azerbaijan.

Ismayilova’s reporting conclusively demonstrated that Azerfon’s true owners, obscured by a maze of shell companies, were the two daughters of Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev. The story subsequently forced the government to rewrite the law that gave Azerfon a 3G monopoly.

Journalist Janyl Chytyrbayeva documented the stories of rape victims from ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. Her groundbreaking work overturned local taboos against acknowledging victims of rape.
Journalist Janyl Chytyrbayeva documented the stories of rape victims from ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. Her groundbreaking work overturned local taboos against acknowledging victims of rape.
RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reporter Janyl Chytyrbayeva defied societal taboos with her deeply humanizing piece, “The Invisible Women of Osh,” a story on the previously-unreported victims of the systematic gang-rape that accompanied ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 2010.

Centering on the crushing story of one woman, Kamilla, who “saw the worst of fates, lost a good part of her health...and lives hiding her shame from the entire world,” Chytyrbayeva’s sensitive but searing report brought attention to an important story that had been wholly neglected by local media sources in Kyrgyzstan.

Chytyrbayeva's story recently received a note of "High Commendation" from the Association for International Broadcasting at a ceremony in London.

A willingness to confront uncomfortable truths also characterized Tina Jelin’s video, “Little Joy In Srebrenica At Mladic Arrest,” which offered important context for one of the year’s most important news events in the Balkans.

Jelin returned to Srebrenica to document the surviving relatives of the more than 8,000 defenseless Muslim men and boys who were slaughtered there by the forces of Serb general Ratko Mladic in 1995. As the rest of the world celebrated the justice of Mladic’s long-overdue arrest, Jelin focused on the quiet anguish that still haunts Srebrenica -- an anguish little-assuaged by the legal proceedings to follow.

When a crew of Georgian sailors in Libya reached out to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service, they were suffering a different kind of anguish. The men, abandoned without pay by their ship’s Italian owner in the Libyan port of Misurata, pleaded to RFE/RL, “We have nothing to eat. We are forced to ask other ships for food, water, and cigarettes. Some of the crew need urgent medical assistance...We have no electricity or water.”

RFE/RL’s Tea Absaridze and Daisy Sindelar dove into the story and reported regularly on the crew’s situation, culminating in the gripping account, “After 11-Month Ordeal, Crew Of Georgian Ship Recalls Harrowing Libyan Escape.” Georgian Service director David Kakabadze noted that RFE/RL’s coverage meant so much to the crew that when other media organizations asked for interviews with crew members, “they asked us to approve the interviews first.”

Finally, RFE/RL praised the diligent work of Russian Service journalist Mariana Torocheshnikova, who kept Russia and the world informed of every minute of the sham trial of former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky via newsy Twitter posts and web updates. Through her coverage, RFE/RL’s Russian audience and observers across the globe had direct access into the courtroom proceedings.

Torocheshnikova's innovative coverage provides a glimpse of the many ways RFE/RL journalists have moved aggressively into emerging media formats, reaching out to new audiences even as they loyally serve their longtime listeners.

-- Charles Dameron