The Leipzig "Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media" was presented today: ZDF Director Dr. Thomas Bellut speaks on freedom of the media and press
Leipzig, 8 October, 2014. In today’s ceremony, the Sparkasse Leipzig Media Foundation presented the 14th "Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media" to journalists who continue to fight for the implementation and preservation of freedom of the press with courage and exceptional engagement. The winners are the Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad and participants in the "Peaceful Revolution" in the GDR Aram Radomski, Siegbert Schefke, Roland Jahn, and Christoph Wonneberger.
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the "Peaceful Revolution", Burkhard Jung, Lord Mayor of Leipzig and Chairman of the Board of the Media Foundation, spoke about the unique objective of the Leipzig Media Award: "Those who are contemptuous of free speech have many names, locations, and motives. There is little they fear more than the gaze of the public eye. This is a good sign, for it shows that free speech continues to bear power. But it is also troubling. It is proof of the serious threat that still exists to this precious asset to free societies. In the face of this danger, the most important task of the free press can only be this: to create crystalline clarity, to voice facts concisely and intelligibly, to name names. Who could be more aware of this than the people of Leipzig?"
Dr. Harald Langenfeld, Executive Chairman of Sparkasse Leipzig and the Media Foundation, congratulated the winners, saying: "Aram Radomski, Siegbert Schefke, Roland Jahn, and Christoph Wonneberger generated publicity for the demands of the protest movement with courage, intelligence, and at great personal risk...As one of the leading journalists in her home country of Afghanistan, Farida Nekzad is one of the most prominent defenders of women’s rights and freedom of the press. Death threats, a bombing, and even an attempted kidnapping have been unable to prevent her from doing her job as a journalist." At the same time, he spoke critically of conditions in the age of social networks: "The ever-increasing rate of turnover for news items, competition between classic media and the endless stream of news from social networks, as well as recent technological advancements make things easier for those who seek to manipulate public opinion. In the race to publish news and images, journalistic diligence is constantly in danger of being crushed under the wheel".
The winners accepted their award in Leipzig, endowed with a total of 30,000 Euros. Farida Nekzad expressed her gratitude, saying: "This is an especially meaningful award, and in the best possible way, because it honors more than me alone. I see this award as an acknowledgement of all journalists and women’s rights activists who carry out their incredibly important work in Afghanistan under difficult conditions and in the face of grave danger".
Roland Jahn talked about "the fear of the people as the mortar of dictatorship" that can be conquered by independent reporting. For Siegbert Schefke, the most important message sent by the Peaceful Revolution is that one must believe in change: "It is possible." Schefke knows that this statement still resonates in many countries across the globe. Martin Wonneberger, whose speech was read by Thomas Mayer, former head reporter at the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper and author of a biography of Christoph Wonneberger entitled Der nicht aufgibt, said: "The people who, like Edward Snowden, bravely reveal the actions of those in power, should, especially in this country, be defended and protected - and even honored!" Aram Radomski described how he and his fellow combatants accepted the Leipzig Media Award on behalf of all of the people who took to the streets in 1989 in Leipzig and elsewhere to protest the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
Director of ZDF (Second German Television) Dr. Thomas Bellut discussed the "Peaceful Revolution" that took place 25 years ago in a speech on freedom of the media and the press during the award ceremony. He explained that one must remember "that everything that seems so reasonable to many of us today hung by a thread - our very ability to congregate and talk openly about freedom." Freedom is "not a matter of personal carte blanche, but a public commodity that must be mutually generated in cooperative society." According to Bellut, "there is no political freedom without freedom of the media...The freedom to communicate as a fundamental democratic right is a premeditated liberal defensive weapon against State-controlled media or interference on the part of the State in the freedom to broadcast." However, freedom of the media cannot exist if free journalists fail to fulfill their professional obligations: "If a public outrage machine with all its moralistic hype and shitstorming is able to entrap even the German Bundespräsident, then the problematic concept of the media as the State's 'fourth source of force' will become a reality".
Since 2001, with its "Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media", the Sparkasse Leipzig Media Foundation has honored journalists, publishers, and institutions that invest great personal energy in the fight for the freedom and future of the media. The award is also intended to commemorate the "Peaceful Revolution" of 9 October 1989 in Leipzig, when protestors demanded "free press for a free country".
About the laureates:
The Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad is one of her home country's most renowned journalists. She returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after having lived in exile in Pakistan and studied briefly in India. From 2004 to 2009, she worked as the News Director and editor in chief of an independent news agency, and Afghanistan's largest, "Pajhwok News". After that, she became editor in chief at the "Wakht News Agency", an organization dedicated primarily to reporting on women and women’s rights in Afghanistan. Until June of 2014, she was an elected member and Director of the "Media Commission" within Afghanistan’s "Independent Election Commission", the task of which was to enable a balanced media presence of the campaigning parties during Afghanistan’s elections in 2014.
Farida Nekzad has trained young journalists in Afghanistan and serves as a volunteer member of the international organization "South Asian Women in Media". Her engagement and journalistic activities have made her an influential voice in the fight for women’s rights and freedom of the press. In the past they have also made her the target of multiple death threats, a bomb attack, and an attempted kidnapping. Farida Nekzad currently resides in Germany as a guest of the "Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted People.
Aram Radomski, Siegbert Schefke, Roland Jahn, and Christoph Wonneberger participated in the "Peaceful Revolution" of 1989 in the GDR as well as the opposition movement that led up to it. Between 1977 and 1984, Christoph Wonneberger was a Lutheran minister in Dresden, and moved to Leipzig in 1985. Starting in 1986, he coordinated the Monday prayers for peace at the Saint Nicholas Church and worked in opposition groups from within the church. In 1989, he kept a "protest telephone" with which Western journalists could be kept abreast of occurrences in Leipzig. On the evening of 9 October 1989 Wonneberger gave a live interview on the ARD news program "tagesthemen" in which he told the world about Leipzig’s peaceful protest with 70,000 participants.
Roland Jahn was expelled from university in 1977 for criticizing the dissolution of Wolf Biermann’s citizenship. He is one of the founders of the "Jena Friedenskreis" ("peace circle Jena") and has been subject to political persecution due to his promotion of freedom of expression, among other things. In 1982, he was taken into custody, convicted, and released ahead of schedule following protests in the West. Then, in June of 1983, he was exiled from the GDR against his will. From West Berlin, he provided financial and logistical support to the opposition, including by supplying printing presses and video cameras. As a journalist, he produced numerous programs for ARD on the subjects of GDR opposition, human rights violations, and environmental pollution, and thus made a significant contribution to generating counter-publicity. Since March of 2011, Roland Jahn has served as Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic.
Siegbert Schefke is one of the founders of Berlin’s "Environmental Library". It was there that he met Aram Radomski. Together, they did freelance work for various West German media and specialized in documenting the deterioration of historic parts of cities, environmental destruction in the GDR, and the budding opposition movement. With a camera supplied by Roland Jahn, they positioned themselves in the tower of the Reformed Church on Leipzig’s central ring road and filmed the Monday demonstrations on 9 October, 1989. West German media broadcast this important material on October 10, 1989, after which the Leipzig demonstrations were shown all over the world, including throughout the GDR itself. Today, Schefke works as a television editor at the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (Central German Broadcasting). Radomski is the CEO of the Berlintapete GmbH.