In a period that has seen an unprecedented level of attacks against journalists in various parts of the world, leading journalist Peter Greste has spoken of the challenges to freedom of speech to mark the second Annual Greste Baltic Freedom of Speech Award presented on 6th November.
“We cannot have strong democracies without strong journalism. We cannot live in free societies without a free press and freedom of speech.” said Greste. “By world standards, the Baltic States are certainly not terrible, but we cannot take that state of affairs for granted. After going through the Second World War, the Soviet era, and finally independence, nobody in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania assumes these freedoms are a given. “
The Greste Award recognises the achievements of courageous and pioneering work that expands and protects freedom of expression. Nominees were considered by representatives of journalist and human rights organisations from the Baltic States, alongside international freedom of expression organisation ARTICLE 19. The prize is awarded to one winner from each of the three states.
The Greste Award winner from Latvia was Re:Baltica (rebaltica.lv). Founded in August 2011, Re:Baltica has become one of the strongest sources of investigative journalism in the Baltics. They are independent and have been true to their mission of working in the public interest. Re:Baltica covers issues such as corruption, the activities of Russian spies in the region, Russian money laundering, and problems in Latvia’s medical system.
Strong nominees from Latvia included the work of Vita Antstrate a journalist from Latvijas Radio for her reporting and development of the pubic media program "Children of the system", in which she explored the conditions Latvia's children in large institutions such as orphanages. Vita Antstrate's reporting was crucial for raising awareness and promoting action by the institutions and the legislature.
Special praise was also given to the journalists Olga Petrova and Diana Chuchkova of rus.delfi.lv for their project “Kletka”/Cage (rus.delfi.lv/kletka), which tells a story of the only women’s prison in Latvia where mothers live with their children. The project has helped to fight the stigmatisation of women who have been in prison – inspiring journalism with an investigative and campaigning quality that will, in time, change lives.
The award recognises the work that has been undertaken Estonia with the winner of the Estonian prize going to journalist Kadri Ibrus, of the Eesti Päevaleht newspaper for her consistent efforts in producing powerful material on difficult and unpopular issues on the Estonian healthcare system.
The short-list for Estonia also included Feministeerium.ee – a web platform created by NGO Oma Tuba, which publishes news and social critique exclusively from a feminist perspective. They have brought gender and harassment topics into a wider conversation in Estonia.
Special mention was also given to Estonian Kaarel Kuurmaa – film critic, curator, and the co-founder of DocPoint Festival - an independent platform for filmmakers, and creators of documentaries, so they can present their work, meet colleagues, and receive feedback from experts and audiences.
Given the broader challenges to the journalism field posed by the current climate of impunity, the award for Lithuania went to the Lithuanian journalist community as a whole. They are honoured for their collective effort in fighting information access restrictions imposed by the Lithuanian government, and their efforts have contributed to renewed emphasis on transparency by the State.
Other nominees from Lithuania included Mikhail Maglov - former activist of “Solidarnost”, and investigative journalist who recently worked on one of the biggest real estate companies, and aviation scandals in the region.
As part of the presentations, the Australian Embassy in Sweden awarded the winner of their Special prize for the Human rights organizations that promote freedom of Speech in the Baltic States to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (hrmi.lt), a public advocacy organization. Since its establishment in 2003, HRMI has been an active champion for freedom of expression and information in Lithuania and the Baltics, significantly contributing to the protection of freedom of speech in the Baltic region.
Towards the end of his speech Peter Greste paid tribute to all the nominees and the communities and activists that support them.
“The winners of tonight’s awards are individuals and organizations who the jury has recognized as not only being exponents of strong journalism and defenders of freedom of speech. They are people who, through their work, have helped give the public reason to trust and to have confidence in those most fundamental ideas. They are people who stand not only for good journalism, but for a strong democracy.
But they are also brave people. When journalists are doing their jobs, they become pebbles in the shoes of our political leaders. They are irritants and provocateurs, holding the powerful to account, and so they often attract the anger of the powerful. It means pressure and intimidation. Standing up to that, continuing to work in the face of such pressure takes courage and commitment. And as I well know, sometimes it means the prospect of imprisonment. Tonight, I honour each and every one of the finalists.”
The Award was organized with the generous support of Anne-Marie and Gustaf Ander Foundation, The Australian Embassy in Sweden, The Embassy of Sweden in Latvia, The Embassy of Sweden in Estonia, The Embassy of Finland in Latvia, Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Latvia, UNESCO. Media partners of the Award: Delfi news portal, human rights organisation Article 19.