The Australian’s Paul Maley and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Kate McClymont have been awarded the Australian Press Council’s inaugural Press Freedom Medal.
Awarded as part of council’s international press freedom conference, the medal recognises the journalists’ outstanding investigative work and contribution to a free and open society.
Maley is national security editor of The Australian. He is best known for his compelling and comprehensive coverage of Islamic State, which has earned him multiple awards as well as death threats from the terrorist group.
He received the award just hours after news broke that home-grown terrorist Neil Prakash, a man responsible for many death threats against him, was killed in US air strikes.
“I think he wanted to kill me and other journalists simply because like all journalists I’m a truth teller. You write what you find; you expose these people for what they are,” Maley said in his acceptance speech.
In a statement issued on the award, Maley also said: “The Islamic State, like all tyrannies, relies on violence, intimidation and fear to govern.
“Journalists cannot defeat it, but we can rob it of the false prestige it uses to destroy young lives. We must continue to do this, despite whatever threats are thrown our way.”
McClymont is an investigative journalist who has delved in the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Canterbury Bulldogs salary cap rorts, the commercial activities of former government ministers and the administration of the Health Service Union.
“I can’t tell you how honoured I am by this because as our journalistic endeavors are shrinking, it is even more vital that journalists stand up and be counted,” she said.
“I think the press council’s move to support press freedom and to be a strong player on this field is just really vital and it’s great to see and you ought to be congratulated.”
Press Council chairman Prof David Weisbrot said the winners were exemplary.
“They have the respect of their peers and the admiration of all Australians for their uncompromising investigative journalism, painstakingly uncovering and revealing uncomfortable truths, often at considerable risk to themselves and their families,” he said.
The council is open to awarding the medal in the future to non-journalists who make a contribution to press freedom such as legal professionals.
The press council conference was held at Sydney’s Darling Harbour this week and featured speakers that included Madhu Trehan, founding editor of New Dehli’s NewsLaundry; David Barstow of The New York Times and representatives from international press councils and Twitter.
The conference’s keynote speaker was Russian investigative journalist Anna Nemstova, who was detained while reporting on the downing on MH-17 in Ukraine and lost friends and colleagues killed in the course of their work.
“It is a big tragedy to lose friends and colleagues to gunfire in conflict zones. It is an even bigger tragedy and shame to see our colleagues die in peaceful places,” she said during her keynote speech, gripped with emotion.
Her speech was filmed and she used the opportunity to send a message to the leaders of the former Soviet Union.
“Protect your reporters, even if they dig out information that discredits you. They’re doing their jobs. They’re witnesses of your rule,” she said.
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