Alan Rusbridger awarded with European Press Prize

European Press Prize (Photo by Dora Panariti)

European Press Prize (Photo by Dora Panariti)

Guardian editor receives “Europe’s Pulitzer” for NSA revelations alongside award winners from across the continent.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, and Wolfgang Buchner of Der Spiegel have been honoured with “The Special Award” of the European Press Prize (EPP) for their teams’ articles about NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance programmes.

During the award ceremony in London, Justin Webb, presenter of the BBC’s Today programme, said: “One European paper, The Guardian, has played a leading role in the story. Its editor Alan Rusbridger has endured many months of difficulties at the hands of the government and its different agencies. He has fought to bring the facts to public attention and to do so in a way that is safe and decent, but also reveals the truth.”

In his acceptance speech for “Europe’s equivalent for the Pulitzers”, Rusbridger said The Guardian had to publish its articles from the US because of the UK government’s determination to suppress the story.

Apart from Rusbridger and Buchner, five other winners were selected from nearly 400 entries for the four main categories and the “Special Award”, each worth 10,000 euros.

Sir Harold Evans, the former editor of The Times and Sunday Times and chairman of the EPP panel of judges, said the prizes would help to refine the notions of good journalism:

“The conviction that for all the dizzingly different cultures, all the different forms of media today, all the varied patterns of ownership, there is a common instinctive appreciation in 40 countries across the continent of what’s bad journalism and what’s good journalism, what’s good practice and what’s bad practice.”

The Investigative Reporting Award

Three Reuters journalists, Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati, were honoured for their investigation “Assets of the Ayatollah”, at the news agency’s headquarters in Canary Wharf.

The Reuters team unveiled how Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used a little-known organisation called Setad to confiscate properties belonging to ordinary Iranians.

In his acceptance speech, Stecklow said the idea for the investigation was based on rumours on the Internet about Khamenei’s wealth.

“The biggest challenge was that Reuters was kicked out of Iran two years ago, which made on-the-ground reporting impossible,” he added.

However, an analysis of statements by Setad officials and data from the Tehran Stock exchange and company websites allowed the journalists to estimate the corporation’s assets at about $95 billion.

The Distinguished Writing Award

Sergey Khazov was given “The Distinguished Writing Award” for his article series about minorities in Russia with a focus on Muslims and the LGBT-community.

In the opening speech of the ceremony, Sir Harold Evans pointed out that good journalism had a reverence for human rights and for the rights of minorities against powerful interests:

“The press does a great service when it confronts stereotypes with the stories of real people, and perpetrates evil when it stokes fear,” he said.

Asked about the future of free press in Russia, Khazov said many journalists were becoming PR experts, but he and The New Times magazine were not the only ones to report the reality.

The Commentator Award

The European Press Prize judges honoured “Vukovar: a Life-Size Monument to the Dead City” by the Croatian journalist Boris Dežulović with “The Commentator Award”.

Vukovar has been called Croatia’s Stalingrad due to heavy damage and its many casualties during the Yugoslav Wars. As the city has preserved some of its destroyed buildings as a testimony, Dežulović said the city was an example that “history in Croatia is always contemporary”.

On the day before the ceremony, Peter Preston, the former editor of the Guardian, wrote that if he had to salute one region beyond any other it would be the Balkans:

“We’re used to hearing dreadful wails from big-money newspaper groups in the west, particularly the US. They say that mounting investigations is too expensive these days. They should come over to Sarajevo or Bucharest and see what dedication plus gritty resilience – journalism’s gift to democracy – can achieve,” he wrote in The Observer.

The Innovation Award

The Norwegian journalists Espen Sandli and Linn Kongsli Hillestad received “The Innovation Award” for their data journalism project “Null CTRL”.

Sandli said their project, published by Dagbladet, was aimed at understanding how exposed Norwegians were online and what people without specialised computer skills could find out:

“We ourselves didn’t start as data experts. Our idea was: What can anyone find on the Internet?”

The Special Awards

In addition to Alan Rusbridger, the judges gave a “Special Award” to Yavuz Baydar, whose column in the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah was censored before he was fired from his job as independent ombudsman for the paper.

In his acceptance speech, Baydar voiced concern about the situation of the press in Turkey, saying more than 200 journalists had been sacked since June last year when the protests in Gezi Park started.

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